- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 2, 2002

NEW DELHI Hopes of a diplomatic breakthrough to prevent a military confrontation between India and Pakistan suffered a setback yesterday when India ruled out any bilateral meeting between the nuclear-armed neighbors' leaders at a regional summit later this week.
With both countries preparing for war along their mutual border, particularly in the disputed territory of Kashmir, Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee rejected a feeler from Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf for one-on-one talks at a South Asian summit in Katmandu, Nepal.
India is pressing Pakistan, despite more than 100 high-profile arrests, for still stronger action against two Islamic groups it blames for an armed attack on the Indian Parliament on Dec. 13.
"There is no chance of talks between the heads of two countries at the [South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation] meeting. Even [Indian Foreign Minister] Jaswant Singh will not hold talks with [Pakistani Foreign Minister] Abdul Sattar," a senior Indian Foreign Ministry official said in Katmandu, where he was preparing for the summit.
The remarks made clear that India remains less than satisfied with the arrest by Pakistan of more than 100 militants, including Hafiz Mohammed Saeed, leader of the Islamic group Lashkar-e-Taiba. That arrest had been welcomed by Mr. Singh on Monday as a "step forward in right direction."
In his new year's address to the nation, which was carried in major newspapers, Mr. Vajpayee said New Delhi was ready for peace talks with Pakistan, including discussions on the future of Kashmir, if the Islamabad government abandoned its "anti-India mentality" and acted against cross-border terrorism.
Pakistani officials said they would welcome such a dialogue. "If there is a move from the Indian side, we will certainly welcome it," Aziz Ahmed Khan, the Foreign Ministry spokesman, said at a news briefing.
However, Pakistan accused India yesterday of continuing its troop buildup, which includes tanks and missile launchers, on the border. New Delhi said the buildup was virtually complete and "purely precautionary."
The United States has welcomed Gen. Musharraf's crackdown on Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed, the two groups named by India as suspects in the parliament attack. An official of the Jaish-e-Mohammed group said more than a dozen of its activists were detained in the southern Pakistani province of Sindh yesterday.
Gen. Musharraf "is cracking down hard, and I appreciate his efforts," President Bush said Monday.
But India's rejection of a meeting with Gen. Musharraf set back hopes that the two countries were backing away from the threat of a fourth Indian-Pakistani war.
Indian Law Minister Arun Jaitley made clear in a televised interview yesterday that New Delhi feels Pakistan still has not done enough to crack down on terrorists.
"Because of a stronger [U.S.] pressure, [Pakistan] is taking action against Taliban and al Qaeda of Afghanistan, calling them terrorists," Mr. Jaitley said. "But on the [Indian border], they are changing the definition of terrorism and encouraging the terrorists."
India still is seeking the arrest of Jaish-e-Mohammed chief Maolana Azhar Masood and 20 others whom India has identified as terrorists or criminals. But Pakistan yesterday signaled that it would not hand over any of its citizens to India because there is no extradition treaty between the two countries.
"We cannot take any legal action against any Pakistani national in such a case unless India provides proper evidence of [the Islamic groups] involvement in the attack on the Indian Parliament," a Pakistani Foreign Ministry official said.
The arrest of Mr. Saeed is one of the boldest steps Gen. Musharraf has taken in response to India's demands. But presidential spokesman Gen. Rashid Qureshi said that and the other arrests were simply part of "an ongoing process" to curb violence in Pakistan and had "nothing to do with India."
Some experts on South Asian politics say Gen. Musharraf would face serious disturbances if he were to go along with India's demand that he turn over people who have been fighting for the cause of Kashmir.
"Handing Pakistanis over to India would be political suicide. Pervez Musharraf, proud and pragmatic in equal proportions, would almost certainly prefer to go to war," wrote analyst Peter Popham in the Independent, a London newspaper.
In India, meanwhile, pressure from the Hindu hard-liners of his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and other right-wing Hindu organizations is forcing Mr. Vajpayee to reject any dialogue with Gen. Musharraf. Since the attack on parliament, the hard-liners have pressed for a military attack against Pakistan, with nuclear arms if necessary.

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