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India's Home Affairs Minister Downplays Threat of Nuclear Conflict - 2002-01-10

India's Home Affairs Minister says it is up to Pakistan to take the steps needed to help defuse tensions between the two South Asian nuclear powers in the wake of last month's deadly terrorist attack on the Indian parliament. During a visit to Washington, however, Minister L.K. Advani downplayed concerns that the current tensions might lead to a nuclear conflict between India and Pakistan.

India has strongly supported the U.S.-led anti-terrorist coalition in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks on New York and Washington. Speaking at a press conference Wednesday, at the Indian Embassy, Minister L.K. Advani lost no time in telling reporters that his government and the Bush administration are really fighting the same foes: violence and extremism. "I wish to emphasize that India and the United States have a unique role in the struggle against terrorism," he said. "We are both victims of terrorism. We are both actively fighting against it, albeit in our own ways, with a steadily growing degree of cooperation. Above all, we are both democracies. Indeed, I would like to describe India and America as the 'Twin Towers of Democracy'."

Mr. Advani, who began a four-day visit to the United States Wednesday, also made clear his opinion of who ultimately bears the blame for the December 13 attack on the Indian parliament in New Delhi. He said said India's patience with what he called Pakistani support for the Kashmiri militants it blames for the attack has run out. "India made several sincere and bold efforts in the past three years to seek peace with Pakistan," he said. "Each time, Pakistan responded with betrayal. As far as India is concerned, December 13 has been the gravest of provocations so far. We shall not take another betrayal this time around. Pakistan must act - sincerely, decisively, demonstrably, and speedily."

As India's chief law enforcement officer, Mr. Advani again demanded that Islamabad hand 20 suspected Pakistan-based terrorists over to India and close all training camps for Kashmiri militants on its territory. Islamabad has so far arrested some of the leaders of Pakistan-based Kashmiri militant groups in the wake of the December 13 attack. However, it also claims sovereignty over Indian-controlled Kashmir and says fighting New Delhi's continued rule there is legitimate.

The Bush Administration says it finds India's grievances legitimate, and has asked Pakistan to do all it can to disrupt the activities of suspected terrorists. However Mr. Advani, who met Wednesday with Secretary of State Colin Powell and Attorney General John Ashcroft, did not say whether Washington has promised to support India in its dispute with Pakistan.

The Indian and Pakistani troop buildups in the wake of the attack have raised fears of a military conflict between the two nuclear powers, something the Bush Administration fears could destabilize the anti-terrorist coalition. However, Minister Advani said India will not initiate a nuclear war against its neighbor. "So far as India is concerned, there'll be no first use of nuclear weapons, and we stand by that," said India's Home Affairs Minister.

Mr. Advani also plans to travel to New York during his four-day visit.