- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 15, 2002

Pakistan arrested hundreds more Islamic militants in a widening crackdown yesterday, but its foreign minister said the confrontation with India would remain "very dangerous" until its nuclear-armed neighbor pulled troops back from the border.
"As Secretary [of State Colin L.] Powell said, a spark can cause disaster," Pakistani Foreign Minister Abdus Sattar said by telephone from Islamabad. "Unfortunately, there is no change. Indian forces are still massed at the border."
President Bush won promises from both leaders on Sunday to work to reduce the tensions between them, but no immediate change was evident on the ground.
India yesterday praised Pakistan's crackdown on suspected terrorists but said it will not remove its troops until Pakistan shows it can halt the infiltration of extremists into Indian territory.
"The mobilization is complete, and any effort at de-escalation can come only, I repeat only, if and when the cross-border terrorism is effectively stopped," Indian Defense Minister George Fernandes told reporters in New Delhi.
State Department spokesman Richard Boucher, speaking on the eve of a trip to the region by Mr. Powell, also called the situation dangerous.
"The prospects for military conflict remain high," he said. "I cannot say tension has eased."
Mr. Boucher refused to say whether the United States had asked India to pull its troops back from the border. Indian Home Minister Lal Krishna Advani told The Washington Times last week that U.S. officials had not asked India to do so.
Mr. Sattar, who will meet with Mr. Powell when the secretary lands in Islamabad tomorrow, complained that India has moved hundreds of thousands of troops from all over India to the Pakistani border.
He also professed surprise at India's demand that Pakistan take action to match the promises made in a weekend speech by President Pervez Musharraf.
"We have taken action," he said, referring to the arrests of 1,500 members of extremist groups since Saturday.
India mobilized its million-man army after a Dec. 13 attack on the Parliament in New Delhi. India said the five attackers killed in the raid were from Pakistan-based groups Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed.
Gen. Musharraf said in a nationwide address Saturday that he was closing down those groups and three others blamed for sectarian violence between Sunni and Shi'ite Muslims.
Pakistan's Interior Ministry has closed more than 300 offices of a half-dozen militant groups since then.
"The office bearers and activists were put under detention," Mr. Sattar said. "We took action in all the major cities. It will take time to go down to the small towns."
Militants operating inside Indian-held portions of Kashmir are unlikely to lay down their weapons. But India believes it can contain an indigenous Kashmiri insurgency and that it is only foreign support from Pakistan and Islamic groups that has kept the violence boiling for more than 10 years.
With the extension of Kashmiri-based terrorism into the home of India's democratic government last month, the ruling nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party feels public sentiment favors forcing Pakistan to make a choice: Stop terrorism against India or face a war.
Mr. Fernandes said just before leaving on a visit to Washington: "The entire nation is fed up with terrorism and looks for a permanent solution to this problem. We are keen to resolve things peacefully, but if it does not work we will be left with no option."
Pakistan military spokesman Rashid Qureshi responded that Islamabad expected India "to move back to peacetime positions to reduce tensions."
A spokesman for India's Border Security Forces said yesterday that Pakistani troops had fired grenade launchers and heavy artillery across the Line of Control that divides the disputed Kashmir province. The Indian troops retaliated.
Also yesterday, Chinese Prime Minister Zhu Rongji was in New Delhi on the first visit to India in a decade by a Chinese leader.
Although China is the major arms supplier to Pakistan and holds territory it seized from India in a 1962 border war, the world's two most populous nations have signaled in recent months that they want improved relations.
China also has called on Pakistan to tone down its backing for militants fighting in Kashmir.
Beijing blames Islamic militancy for a series of bombings by ethnic Uighurs in western China. Some were trained in Afghanistan and fought with Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda terror network when it was backed by Pakistan before the September 11 attacks on New York and Washington.

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