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Indian Minister: No Plans To Pull Back From Pakistani Border - 2002-01-14

India's defense minister says his government has no plans to pull back troops from India's border with Pakistan until cross-border infiltration in India's Jammu and Kashmir State ends. The comments come just days after Pakistan's president, General Pervez Musharraf, pledged not to allow his country to be used as a base for terrorism in India.

Speaking at a news conference on the eve of his departure to Washington for talks with senior U.S. defense officials, Defense Minister George Fernandes says Indians are "fed up with terrorism." He says none of the hundreds of thousands of troops India has moved to its border with Pakistan will be de-mobilized until India sees progress on ending cross-border infiltration from Pakistani territory. "There is no way we are going to pull out the troops, unless there is action on the promises that have been made by President Musharraf," he said.

India's defense minister was responding to a speech Pakistan's president made Saturday night, in which he pledged not to allow Pakistani territory to be used as a base for terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir.

Tensions between India and Pakistan have eased somewhat since General Musharraf's Saturday speech. Both countries had mobilized hundreds of thousands of troops after terrorists attacked India's parliament, last month. New Delhi blames two Pakistan-based Kashmir separatist militant groups for the attack and says Islamabad must end what it calls "cross-border terrorism" in Kashmir.

India's defense minister says he understands General Musharraf needs time to implement his pledges, but India does want to see a reduction of violence in Kashmir fairly soon. "One has to give some time to deliver, but that does not mean that there is any kind of an indefinite wait on any side," said George Fernandes. "But to expect that things should have happened by yesterday evening would not be a fair expectation."

Mr. Fernandes says Indian officials are not going to accept the deaths of about 20 soldiers a week in Kashmir. Human rights groups say more than 35,000 people have died since a separatist insurgency began more than a decade ago. Kashmir separatists say the figure is much higher.

The Indian defense minister also called for an end to cross-border firing along the "line of control" - the cease-fire line that divides Kashmir. He repeated India's long-stated position of no first use of nuclear weapons, adding he believes the current crisis can be solved through diplomacy.

Mr. Fernandes says he is not taking a "shopping list" with him to Washington. However, he will hold follow-up talks about the purchase of several weapons systems India has expressed an interest in acquiring.

His visit follows that of India's influential home minister, L.K. Advani. Later this week, Secretary of State Colin Powell visits New Delhi as part of a South Asia trip designed to try to further ease tensions between South Asia's two nuclear neighbors.