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Powell Set for Talks in India - 2002-07-27

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell holds talks with Indian leaders in New Delhi Saturday, before traveling on to Pakistan on Sunday for talks with officials there. Mr. Powell's visit to the region is the latest in a series of high-level visits by Western envoys seeking an end to the military standoff between the two countries.

Senior Indian officials say they will convey to Mr. Powell their concerns that Pakistan has retracted on pledges to end cross-border infiltration by Muslim militants along the line of control that divides Kashmir between India and Pakistan.

In recent weeks, Indian officials have blamed Muslim militants for almost daily incidents of violence in Indian Kashmir, in which scores of people have been killed or wounded. Pakistan denies any link with the militants, and says it has stepped up efforts to prevent any movement across the line of control dividing Kashmir.

The United States says it wants both countries to build on commitments that helped ease the threat of war, following a confrontation in May. Mr. Powell said he will try to promote dialogue between the two sides.

Although the war rhetoric has subsided, tensions between the two countries remain high. On the eve of Mr. Powell's visit, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Nirpuama Rao re-iterated New Delhi's stand that it will not enter talks or take more measures to de-escalate tensions, until Pakistan fulfills its promises. "It [Pakistan] is against the restoration of peace and normalcy in our relations. It has consistently spurned the constructive gestures made by India to reduce tensions, and Pakistan has a very duplicitous attitude when it comes to fighting terrorism, as far as we are concerned," he said.

Mr. Powell said there has been a decrease in the number of incursions by Muslim separatists into Indian Kashmir, but acknowledges violence in the region continues.

A professor of security studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University, Kanti Bajpai, said there appears to be a stalemate between the two countries, with each wanting the other to take the initiative in easing tensions. He said the focus of Western diplomacy now is to seek a way out of that stalemate, and keep a lid on tensions. "I think Mr. Powell and others will simply urge both sides to soften their stands as much as possible, and try to iron out misperceptions that Islamabad or New Delhi have about each other," he said.

Mr. Powell meets with Indian Foreign Minister Yaswant Sinha first. On Sunday, he meets with Deputy Prime Minister Lal Krishna Advani, before leaving for Pakistan.