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US Attempts to Diffuse India, Pakistan Tensions - 2001-12-20

The Bush administration is stepping-up efforts to defuse tensions between India and Pakistan, following last week's terrorist attack on the Indian parliament. Secretary of State Colin Powell has made telephone appeals to leaders of both sides to show restraint and to cooperate in the investigation of the incident.

Mr. Powell spoke by telephone with Pakistani President Pervez Musharaff and Foreign Minister Abdul Sattar Wednesday morning. The call followed a late-Tuesday conversation with Indian Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh, that was their second in as many days.

Tensions between the two South Asian powers have been running high since the December 13 attack, which India has blamed on two Pakistan-based Muslim extremist groups.

Briefing reporters here, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher stressed Pakistan's condemnation of the incident, and said the administration believes its aftermath presents an opportunity for the two rivals to work in concert in the global terrorism fight. "We think there is a need here, an opportunity here, for both India and Pakistan each to take action against terrorists," he says. "The president has made clear that it's important for India and Pakistan to make common cause against terrorists who are trying to de-stabilize this whole region. It's not the time for India and Pakistan to start taking action against each other."

Mr. Boucher said the United States believes the groups implicated by India - Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed - have been involved in past acts of terrorism. But he said India should investigate last week's events thoroughly before reacting. And he said it should share any evidence it develops with Pakistan, which he said would give the Islamabad government a "better basis" for acting against those responsible, as it has said it would.

A senior official said the administration looks to both sides, but especially Pakistan, to move against terrorist elements. He said President Musharaff has given every indication he is willing to do what it takes, though it remains to be seen if he can follow-through on his stated commitments.

The latest tensions have complicated the United States' own drive against terrorism in the region, which relies heavily on Pakistani support.

Mr. Powell told reporters after meeting European Union leaders here that he thanked President Musharaff for what he said has been "superb" cooperation in trying to prevent al-Qaida terrorist leaders, who are fleeing the U.S. military drive in Afghanistan, from escaping into Pakistani territory.