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Powell in India To Strengthen Anti-Terrorism Campaign - 2001-10-16

Secretary of State Colin Powell has arrived in India for a visit aimed at shoring up cooperation for the campaign against terrorism. His talks are expected to focus on rising tensions in Kashmir, which has witnessed renewed clashes between Indian and Pakistani forces.

Mr. Powell comes to India in the aftermath of heavy shelling by Indian forces on Pakistani military posts this week in Kashmir. It was the worst fighting between the two sides in nearly a year.

The United States wants restraint, but as sporadic shelling continued, Defense Minister George Fernandes said India would be ruthless in crushing Kashmiri militants. He said the Indian army will conduct a "no-holds barred" campaign in meeting this objective.

Tensions mounted in India after a car bombing killed 40 people at the Jammu-Kashmir state legislature earlier this month. The attack provoked calls by some Indian leaders for tough action to stem violence by Pakistan-based militant groups.

In Islamabad, Mr. Powell urged the two countries to resolve their differences through dialogue, but after hearing the message, New Delhi foreign ministry spokeswoman Nirupama Rao said talks could only be held when Pakistan stops sponsoring what India calls "cross border terrorism."

Foreign ministry officials also disagreed with Mr. Powell's comment that the Kashmir dispute was central to the relationship between India and Pakistan. The officials said "terrorism" supported by Pakistan, and not Kashmir was the problem.

In discussions with Mr. Powell, Indian leaders are expected to reiterate demands that Washington's campaign against terrorism must be widened to include Kashmiri militant groups.

Indian officials fear that with Pakistan playing a key role in the strike against terrorism, Washington will overlook what New Delhi says is Islamabad's prime role in arming and funding these militant groups. Islamabad denies the charge.

Indian leaders also want to share views with Mr. Powell on the future of Afghanistan. India says it does not support the inclusion of moderate Taleban elements in a future Afghan adminsitration, but wants a broad based multi-ethnic government.