Secretary of State Colin Powell is urging India and Pakistan to work to avoid conflict and settle disputes through dialogue. He says the United States will do everything possible to get the two sides talking again. Mr. Powell is in Pakistan on the first leg of a South Asian peace-making mission. He will travel to India later this week Friday for talks with Indian leaders.
After his talks with President Pervez Musharraf, Secretary Powell said Pakistan has made progress in its campaign against religious extremism in the country. At a joint press conference with Pakistan Foreign Minister Abdul Sattar, Secretary Powell praised General Musharraf's national speech last week, saying it a historic move and an attempt to de-escalate tensions with India.
"We hope that President Musharraf's speech and actions to implement what was in that speech will go a long way towards lowering tensions in the region," he said. "The challenge for India and Pakistan is to demonstrate that regional issues can best be resolved through peace and dialogue, not through conflict and terror. Even the most difficult of issues can be resolved through dialogue and not through conflict."
In his landmark speech on Saturday, General Musharraf banned five Islamic groups, including two that India blames for the December terrorist attack on its parliament building. The Pakistani government has sealed offices of these groups and rounded up nearly 2,000 alleged extremists in recent days.
The parliament attack has heightened tensions between India and Pakistan and the two nations have mobilized troops on their common border. India is demanding Islamabad to stop what it calls cross-border terrorism and cut off support to separatist guerillas in the Indian Kashmir.
Secretary Powell admits that Kashmir is a difficult issue but he says it can be settled on through dialogue. "The solution to the problem of Kashmir will only come about through a dialogue between India and Pakistan," he said. "And on the course of that dialogue there will be many issues that have to be discussed. Many equities will be placed on the table from both sides. And what the U.S. is trying to do is to encourage both sides and help create conditions that will allow the beginning of such a dialogue."
India has long accused Pakistan of providing military support to separatist militants fighting Indian rule in Kashmir. Pakistan denies the charge and maintains it gives only moral and diplomatic support to what it calls a freedom struggle in Kashmir. The region has caused two of the three wars between the nations and remains a major source of tensions in the region.
Mr. Powell says the United States is ready to help in any way possible to bring Pakistan and India back to direct talks. India has persistently rejected outside involvement over the Kashmir dispute.
Pakistan Foreign Minister Abdul Sattar says that deployment of armed forces on the borders is a reason for anxiety for people in both countries.
"I think all of us have reasons to be anxious because the forces are poised on the borders," he said. "And so long as they are in present deployment conditions, even an unintentional, even a small incident can spark a chain of events that is not in the interest of peace."
Mr. Sattar says that his country will respond immediately if India made any move to de-escalate the tensions.