U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld says he believes elements of the al-Qaida terrorist organization are operating near the Line of Control that divides Kashmir. Mr. Rumsfeld held extensive discussions with India's top leaders on a range of measures to ease tensions between India and Pakistan, and fight terrorism in the region.
Speaking shortly before he left New Delhi, Secretary Rumsfeld said he does not have hard evidence of precisely how many members of al-Qaida are operating near the Line of Control, but he believes there is an al-Qaida presence in the region. "I have seen indications that there are, in fact, al-Qaida operating in the area that we are talking about, near the Line of Control," said the American defense chief.
Mr. Rumsfeld also did not say whether he believes al-Qaida elements are operating on the Indian or Pakistan sides of the Line of Control, or both. Last month, India's defense minister charged that al-Qaida operatives were active in Kashmir, but State Department officials said they had no evidence to back up the claims.
The Defense Secretary also praised Pakistan for helping to locate and apprehend al-Qaida operatives in the region.
His comments followed meetings with Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and other senior officials. Mr. Rumsfeld says he discussed deploying ground censors in Kashmir to help India stop cross-border infiltration in the region. But he said no decision has been made on whether to supply India with the sophisticated technology.
Mr. Rumsfeld is the latest in a series of high-level diplomatic visitors to New Delhi and Islamabad in an international effort to ease tensions between South Asia's two nuclear neighbors. The defense secretary says the situation between India and Pakistan remains tense, but he praised steps India has taken in recent days to ease tensions.
"We recognize the fact that India has very recently taken a series of steps that have been useful, to be sure," he said. "For example, resuming over-flights [by Pakistan civilian aircraft and] indicating that a High Commissioner [Ambassador] will be named and returned to Pakistan and the movement of naval forces to the south."
Indian officials say they took the steps Mr. Rumsfeld mentioned because they are seeing a drop-off in the number of militants crossing from Pakistan territory into Indian-administered Kashmir. Pakistan says all infiltration has stopped and denies actively supporting the militants.
Secretary Rumsfeld says the United States and India share a common goal of seeing an end to cross-border infiltration in Kashmir and to terrorist acts in the region. He says those goals are also shared by the 60 other countries around the world who have united in the fight against terrorism.