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India-Pakistan Summit Breakthrough Seen Unlikely - 2002-01-02

Foreign Ministers from the seven-member South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation are discussing terrorism, free trade and poverty at a meeting in Kathmandu, Nepal. But there are no discussions on the India-Pakistan dispute planned when SAARC leaders begin their summit Friday.

Analysts in New Delhi say talks between India and Pakistan will probably take place, but there is little chance of a breakthrough.

Senior Indian officials have ruled out bilateral talks in Kathmandu between Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and Pakistan's President General Pervez Musharraf. The current crisis was sparked by a December 13 terrorist attack on the Indian Parliament.

Indian political analysts like Brahma Chellaney agree. Mr. Chellaney, a professor of security studies at New Delhi's Center for Policy Research, says any chance of a breakthrough ending the crisis during the Kathmandu meeting is unrealistic.

"They are going to shake hands, exchange some pleasantries and show that they can still talk to each other. But if the world is expecting substantive dialogue, that will not happen at the SAARC Summit in Kathmandu," he says.

Brahma Chellaney says many Indians believe the December 13 attack on their parliament was as serious as the September 11 terrorist attacks in the United States because the attack on India's parliament was designed to wipe out India's political leadership.

Indian officials blame two Pakistan-based militant Kashmir separatist groups, Jaish-e-Mohammed and Lashkar-e-Toiba, for the attacks. They have accused Pakistan of having "indirect involvement" with terrorist groups - a charge Pakistani officials strongly deny.

Earlier this week India's Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh said Islamabad's arrest of one of the founder's of Lashkar-e-Toiba and other militants was a step in the right direction towards easing tensions.

But Brahma Chellaney says Indian officials will be looking for more from Islamabad before they agree to hold serious discussions towards resolving issues like the Kashmir dispute.

"Musharraf has said that he is going to go after all the extremists, and he has said that Pakistan has to be freed of terrorism swamps. Now, if he means what he says in public, the evidence will be available to India from the situation as it emerges on the ground in Jammu and Kashmir and elsewhere in India," Mr. Chellaney says.

Brahma Chellaney says he believes if Indian officials do not see a de-escalation of violence in Kashmir the likelihood of military conflict with Pakistan will increase. He says such a conflict could start within weeks. After December 13, he says, Indians will no longer tolerate terrorism on their soil.

Commodore Uday Bhaskar is an active duty Indian Navy officer who is also the Deputy Director of New Delhi's Institute for Defense Studies and Analysis. He says he does not expect much from the Kathmandu summit, but he does not believe war between India and Pakistan is likely at the present time.

"I think there is a very deep awareness on both sides that any form of military hostility at this point is not desirable. And I think this is buttressed and strenghthened by the international community and, most importantly, we are in a situation today where you have American troops in the region. I do not think that Washington would be particularly enthused by such a move," he says.

Commodore Bhaskar says India might feel compelled to undertake military action against Pakistan if there is a sudden escalation of terrorist attacks. He says Pakistan must understand the enormity of what happened on December 13 and it must understand India's resolve.