- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 1, 2002

The United States yesterday praised both India and Pakistan for "acting responsibly" to avoid an armed conflict, noting that Islamabad's arrest of a militant leader had caused no public backlash, an indication that most Pakistanis support President Pervez Musharraf's moves.

New Delhi, meanwhile, called Sunday's arrest and other measures against Kashmiri groups it accused of carrying out an attack on its Parliament a "step forward" but demanded that 20 more suspects be jailed. Islamabad said it is now up to its neighbor to end the dangerous standoff.

The State Department, which also welcomed the arrest of Hafiz Mohammed Saeed, founder and de facto leader of the militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba, said it showed that Gen. Musharraf was still "in control."

"We are pleased that both countries continue to act responsibly in order to avoid a conflict," State Department deputy spokesman Philip Reeker told reporters. "We welcome the efforts by India and Pakistan to defuse tensions between them over ending terrorist attacks against India."

Another State Department official later said, "We note there has been no public backlash against the steps he has taken. The vast majority of Pakistanis support these moves because they are in the interests of the country."

Gen. Musharraf's government, which denied involvement in the Dec. 13 attack on the Indian Parliament, already had arrested Masood Azhar, leader of Jaish-e-Mohammed, the other group India accused of being behind the terrorist act.

Last week, the United States added both Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed to its list of foreign terrorist organizations. The Bush administration also has been trying to mediate a solution to the crisis, which Washington fears may hurt its anti-terrorism efforts.

Yesterday, President Bush said he was encouraged by Mr. Saeed's arrest, and the State Department official said Gen. Musharraf remained a "reliable and capable partner against terrorism and extremism."

"He's cracking down hard, and I appreciate his efforts," Mr. Bush told reporters in Crawford, Texas. "Terror is terror, and the fact that the Pakistani president is after terrorists is a good sign."

Mr. Bush said he had told Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee that he understood his anger over the attack on Parliament but was "hoping they were not headed for war." Fourteen persons, including five attackers, were killed in the incident.

Both India and Pakistan last week put missiles on alert and prepared for a war they said they didn't want. They also traded sanctions, halving their embassy staff and banning aircraft of the other country from flying over their airspace.

Yesterday, New Delhi said it was encouraged by Mr. Saeed's arrest but urged further action against Pakistan-based Kashmiri militants.

"If the information is confirmed, it's a step forward in the right direction," said Indian Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh. "We want Pakistan to pursue it vigorously until cross-border terrorism is eliminated."

In Islamabad, Foreign Ministry spokesman Aziz Ahmed Khan said his government would continue diplomatic efforts to end the crisis but said, "The ball is in India's court."

India yesterday delivered to the Pakistan High Commission the names of 20 suspected terrorists it wanted for questioning. It set no deadline but demanded action "as soon as possible," Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Nirupama Rao said.

Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, who was deeply involved in efforts to ease tensions between the two nuclear rivals, continued his telephone diplomacy over the weekend and yesterday, Mr. Reeker said.

In the past three days, the secretary spoke three times with Gen. Musharraf, twice with Mr. Singh and once with U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw and German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer.

Mr. Reeker said India and Pakistan have "a good opportunity" to "make progress toward resolving their current differences" at the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation summit in Katmandu, Nepal, which begins later this week.

cThis article is based in part on wire service reports.

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