- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 29, 2001

The U.S. drive to build a global coalition against terrorist networks based in Afghanistan has hit an unexpected diplomatic hurdle in the violent, long-running standoff over Kashmir.

India and Pakistan, nuclear powers who view better bilateral relations with the United States as a competitive, zero-sum game, have moved aggressively since the Sept. 11 attacks to press their case in Washington in the bitter border dispute.

"It's been largely ignored in the U.S. press, but Pakistan and India have diametrically opposed definitions of how the Kashmir dispute fits in the terrorism campaign," said George Perkovich, a South Asian specialist at the W. Alton Jones Foundation's Secure World Foundation.

"The United States is squarely in the middle, and there's no easy way out of this," he said.

Jammu and Kashmir, the only Muslim-majority state in India, has long been a bloody battleground between the two South Asian rivals, sparking two wars in 1948 and 1965 and today the site of a low-grade but deadly struggle between Indian troops and a dozen Muslim guerrilla groups.

While the fighting rarely generates headlines, 24 persons were killed and 15 wounded in fighting just over the past several days.

India charges that Pakistan is aiding what it calls "cross-border terrorism" in Kashmir.

It also maintains the Muslim separatist groups have direct links to Afghanistan-based Saudi financier Osama bin Laden, named by the Bush administration as its prime suspect in the Sept. 11 attacks.

Islamabad contends it offers only diplomatic and moral support to Kashmiri "freedom fighters," and has long pressed the United States to intervene to help end the fighting.

While the daily clashes and casualties in the mountainous region have not stopped since the U.S. attacks, the death toll has fallen. Indian police say 141 were killed in Kashmir in the two weeks after the suicide hijackings, compared with 200 in the two weeks before the strikes.

But the Sept. 11 attacks have clearly intensified the maneuvering by both sides for an advantage.

Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf, in his Sept. 19 speech announcing Pakistan's decision to join the U.S. anti-terror campaign, explicitly linked the crisis in Afghanistan to Kashmir.

He accused New Delhi of trying to use the terrorist strikes in New York and the Washington suburbs to "isolate" Pakistan for its long-standing ties to the ruling Afghan Taliban regime.

India "wants America to be with them and Pakistan to be declared a terrorist state," Mr. Musharraf said. "They want to damage our strategic interests and the Kashmir cause."

Mr. Perkovich said Mr. Musharraf may even be tempted to increase their backing for Kashmiri separatist groups in order to placate domestic critics unhappy with his decision to support the United States against bin Laden.

For its part, India has gone from an initial elation that the crisis would bolster its U.S. ties to a growing uneasiness as the Bush administration increases its cooperation with Mr. Musharraf's government.

India offered extensive military and intelligence aid to the United States the day the hijacked planes struck, but has expressed frustration that Washington has not appeared to share its analysis of the Muslim terrorist threat in Kashmir.

Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee said the Bush administration has focused exclusively on Afghanistan and bin Laden, and has not shown "a mood to focus on India's bitter experience of terrorist activities on its soil."

The Bush administration has been forced to walk a fine line on the Kashmir dispute, insisting its policy has not changed.

What has changed, Undersecretary of State Marc Grossman said earlier this week, "is that we are very focused on what has happened on the map" and on strengthening the international coalition against terrorist networks.

Illustrating the U.S. dilemma on Kashmir was President Bush's decision Monday to identify some 27 individuals and groups around the world linked to terrorism.

One of the groups, Harakat ul-Mujahideen, has been active in the separatist struggle in Kashmir, but several other, more prominent Muslim rebel groups were left off the list.

The rebel groups immediately claimed Washington's tacit support for their cause, while Indian officials complained that other "terrorist" groups operating in Kashmir had been overlooked.

But U.S. Ambassador to India Robert Blackwill was quick to reassure the Indian government that the Monday list was not Washington's final word on the subject.

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