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Blair: Politics, Not Terror Will Resolve Kashmir Dispute - 2002-01-05


British Prime Minister Tony Blair is in India on a three-day visit that is expected to focus on calming tensions between India and Pakistan. The British leader is on the second leg of a South Asian tour that will also take him to Pakistan.

Mr. Blair's trip to India was planned weeks before tensions between India and Pakistan escalated in the wake of last month's terrorist attack on India's parliament. But efforts to pull the region back from the brink of war have now moved center stage.

Mr. Blair says his discussions with Indian and Pakistani leaders will focus heavily on the issue of terrorism, and Kashmir, the disputed region which lies at the heart of the bitter relations in the subcontinent.

Addressing a business summit Saturday in the southern city of Bangalore, Mr. Blair said everybody has the right to pursue their political views by legitimate means, but only politics, not terror can solve issues such as disputed Kashmir.

He condemned the two Islamic militant groups, which India accuses of organizing the attack on its Parliament.

"There can indeed be no room in any civilized society for organizations such as Lashkar-e-Toiba and the Jaish-e-Mohammad, groups, I may say, banned by the British government some time ago. The appalling attacks on India's parliament on the 13 of December, and on the Jammu and Kashmir assembly on 1 October, demonstrate more clearly than ever the threat that such fanatics pose - not just to your democracy, but to all our democracies, and civilized values the world over," Mr. Blair said.

Tony Blair is visiting Bangalore and Hyderabad, before traveling to New Delhi for talks with India's prime minister on Sunday. He then travels on to Islamabad for discussions with Pakistani leaders.

Mr. Blair is expected to deliver a message of restraint and dialogue, and try to start a round of intensive diplomacy. International efforts to persuade India to open a dialogue with Pakistan have not met with success so far.

The British prime minister also defended his country's involvement in the U.S. led anti-terrorist campaign in Afghanistan, saying the world is now globally interdependent, and his country intends to play a more constructive role in world affairs.

Meanwhile, Indian officials say there has been a heavy exchange of gun and mortar fire between Indian and Pakistani troops in the Poonch region in Jammu and Kashmir state. They say two Pakistani soldiers have been killed in the latest shooting.

Cross-border shootings have been a near daily occurrence since the two countries deployed tens-of-thousands of troops along their border.

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