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India, Pakistan Trade Accusations over Terrorism - 2002-10-25

Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee has called Pakistan a terrorist state that allows Islamic militants to mount cross-border attacks in India. Pakistan's Foreign Ministry rejected the charge, saying Islamabad condemns terrorism in all its forms. The exchange comes just days after the two countries agreed to pull back troops massed along their common border.

Mr. Vajpayee says Pakistan makes a show of combating terrorism, but "does not hesitate to send" suicide squads into India to kill innocent people. He said "the demon of terrorism" must be destroyed.

Mr. Vajpayee made his remarks at a political rally in New Delhi, organized by his Hindi-nationalist-led coalition to mark three years in power.

Pakistan's foreign ministry spokesman, Aziz Ahmed Khan, rejected Mr. Vajpayee's accusations, saying Indian leaders were "living in a make-believe world" if they thought Pakistan was a terrorist state. Mr. Khan said India has not been able to adjust to Islamabad's positive role in the global campaign against terrorism.

India accuses Pakistan of arming, training and funding Islamic rebels fighting a separatist insurgency in the disputed region of Kashmir. Islamabad calls the rebellion an indigenous uprising, and says it only gives diplomatic and political support to the Muslim militants.

Mr. Vajpayee said the world has never paid enough attention to India's two-decade-long battle against terrorism. But he said the international community is now beginning to understand the gravity of the threat.

Mr. Vajpayee's strong words against Pakistan were echoed at the rally by Kashmir's former chief minister, Farooq Abdullah. He says the government must not open talks with Islamabad unless it ends what New Delhi calls cross-border infiltration of Muslim militants.

"There is a tragedy that is being created by the terrorism that is being unleashed from our neighbor, of communities division that is developing in the nation," he said. "Therefore, my message to the government and the people of this country was clear, please beware."

India has begun pulling back hundreds-of-thousands of troops deployed along the border with Pakistan for the past 10 months because of escalating tensions over Kashmir, the Himalayan region both countries claim. Pakistan has also said it is recalling its troops. But the countries have made clear they will not withdraw from the line-of-control dividing Kashmir.

And tensions between the two countries continue to run high. India has refused to resume peace talks with its neighbor, despite strong pressure from the international community. India says Islamabad must first fully honor a pledge to end infiltration of Muslim militants into its territory. Pakistan says it is not supporting any such infiltration.