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India Pakistan Rivalry Clouds Support for Anti-Terrorism Campaign - 2001-10-19

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell has spent the past week rallying support for the U.S.-led coalition against terrorism. In Pakistan and India, that support was clouded by rival interests.

Secretary Powell's effort to bolster support for the anti-terrorism campaign has meant turning a cold shoulder into a warm embrace and walking a diplomatic tightrope between hostile neighbors.

At his first stop in Islamabad, Mr. Powell heard President Pervez Musharraf's promise of more cooperation in the fight against terrorism. "We have decided to be with the coalition in the fight against terrorism and whatever operation is going on in Afghanistan within the three parameters which have been enunciated, that is, the intelligence cooperation, use of air space and logistical support," said the Pakistani leader.

General Musharraf decided to support the U.S. campaign despite the government's ties with the Taliban leaders in Afghanistan and the rise of ant-American protests by pro-Taliban radical groups.

For its part, the Bush administration now is pushing to lift sanctions that were imposed against Pakistan for its underground nuclear tests and for the military coup that put General Musharraf in power.

"And I made a point to the President that this isn't just a temporary spoke in our relationship, but we believe as a result of the actions taken by Pakistan over the last five weeks, we're truly at the beginning of a strengthened relationship, a relationship that will grow and thrive in the months and years ahead," Mr. Powell said.

Already the Bush administration has rescheduled $379 million in loan payments and promised more debt relief and economic assistance.

Mr. Powell says it represents a long-term commitment to Pakistan's development and stability in South Asia.

That stability depends on the success of the U.S. led campaign against terrorism in neighboring Afghanistan. But analysts say it also depends on resolving the long-running and often bloody dispute between Pakistan and India over Kashmir, a mainly Muslim territory claimed by both countries.

Secretary Powell told Pakistan's leaders that Washington is ready to help further any dialogue.

"Mutual respect for each other, a desire to accommodate the aspirations of the Kashmiri people and respect for avoiding confrontation and understanding that provocation is to be avoided," he said. "But above all, the beginning of a dialogue between the two sides is the most important thing that is needed now."

Washington worries that the Kashmir dispute continues to jeopardize regional stability and could disrupt the international anti-terrorism coalition.

India accuses Pakistan of sponsoring terrorism in Kashmir by supporting Kashmiri rebel groups, a charge Pakistan denies.

In New Delhi, Secretary Powell was quick to stress U.S. understanding of India's concerns and allay their fears that Washington might not press Pakistan enough on the Kashmir issue.

"We deplore terrorism wherever it exists, whether it's the kind of terrorism we saw on the 11th of September or the kind of terrorism we saw on the 1st of October in Srinigar," he said.

The Secretary was referring to a powerful car bomb that was detonated outside a state legislative building in Kashmir, killed at least 25 people, including the suicide bomber.

Washington has added a terrorist group linked to the Srinigar attack to its list of terrorist organizations whose assets will be frozen. Indian foreign minister Jaswant Singh in turn suggested that U.S.-Indian relations would not be held hostage to India's problems with its neighbor.

"India's relationship with the United States is not subject to and is not under the veto of any other relationship," he said.

Mr. Singh added that India is also committed to working with Pakistan to reduce tensions. India and Pakistan, he says, have to learn how to live together as neighbors.

But renewed fighting in Kashmir after Mr. Powell departed the region underscores Washington's concerns that the festering Kashmir dispute still could interfere with Indian and Pakistani cooperation in the fight against terrorism.