- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 23, 2002

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan Pakistan has begun a review of its policy toward the disputed territory of Kashmir because of mounting pressure from the United States to drop its support of Kashmiri militants.

"We cannot underestimate the intense pressure from the U.S. to stop what India calls cross-border terrorism," a senior Pakistani official said.

Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf is seeking the views of his government as he considers a change of policy that could help de-escalate the rising tension between India and Pakistan.

Gen. Musharraf held separate meetings yesterday with army commanders, the Cabinet, the National Security Council and politicians. They are believed to have discussed how Pakistan could comply with America's demands and desist from backing the Kashmiri militants.

The tough American message was delivered last week to Gen. Musharraf by Assistant Secretary of State Christina Rocca, who told him the United States knew that Pakistan was still sending militants into Indian Kashmir.

"The U.S. has made an incontrovertible assessment that Pakistan continues to support militancy in Kashmir," said a senior Western diplomat in Islamabad. "There are still active camps in Azad [Pakistani] Kashmir which train militants and send them across the border."

Western diplomats said Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, who is coming to South Asia but whose arrival date is not yet fixed, would not arrive in the region until Gen. Musharraf takes the necessary steps to stop cross-border terrorism.

The diplomats said Mr. Armitage would only come to mediate between the two countries "if Musharraf has something to give him like evidence on the ground that the cross-border activities have stopped." Once that happens, the United States would be in a much stronger position to pressure India to pull its troops back from the border and de-escalate the tension.

The policy review in Islamabad is the first ray of hope in the gathering storm as India and Pakistan mobilize for war and the first indication that Pakistan wants to avoid it, even at the cost of having to change its policy toward Kashmir.

Such a change would be far more problematic for Pakistan than the U-turn it carried out after September 11 when it stopped supporting the Taliban and helped the United States defeat it.

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