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SAARC Summit Overshadowed by India-Pakistan Tensions - 2002-01-03

Leaders from the seven member states of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation, known as SAARC, have begun arriving in Nepal's capital Kathmandu for a three day summit. The summit called to address regional economic concerns has been overshadowed by tensions between India and Pakistan, following the December 13 terrorist attack on India's parliament.

India's Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee arrived in Kathmandu late Thursday, saying he had no intention of meeting with Pakistan's President General Pervez Musharraf. Mr. Musharraf arrives later, following a visit to Beijing to meet with Chinese leaders.

Despite his tough stance against any meeting with Pakistan's leader, Mr. Vajpayee said war between India and Pakistan was not inevitable and that diplomacy could solve the crisis.

Mr. Vajpayee's Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh said India welcomes Pakistan's recent moves to arrest the leaders of two Pakistan-based Kashmir separatist groups India blames for the attack on its Parliament. "The steps taken against Lashkar-e-Toiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed are welcome steps in the right direction," said Mr. Singh. "The need to be pursued and they need to act much more in that direction."

Mr. Singh said India understands Pakistan needs time to dismantle what he described as the edifices of terrorism. A Pakistani spokesman called Mr. Singh's remarks positive.

Despite what are being regarded as his conciliatory remarks towards Pakistan, India's foreign minister said New Delhi expects Islamabad to act to hand over 20 alleged terrorists and criminals that India says are living in Pakistan. Pakistani officials say they need more evidence from India about the cases, but Mr. Singh said India has provided evidence to Pakistan for more than ten years about individuals charged with crimes in India who it wants extradited. He said Islamabad has consistently ignored the requests.

The leaders of India and Pakistan met last July in the Indian city of Agra, but the summit broke up when neither side could agree on how to proceed to resolve the Kashmir dispute. The latest tensions between Islamabad and New Delhi are the worst in years and both countries have mobilized tens of thousands of troops on the border, and in Kashmir - the disputed territory that has been the cause of two of the three wars that India and Pakistan have fought since Independence.