- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 29, 2002

NEW DELHI India said yesterday that al Qaeda terrorists and remnants of Afghanistan's Taliban have moved into Pakistan-controlled Kashmir, and it said American forces in the region would not deter military action against Pakistan.

"We have information that the number of terrorists who are on the other side of the border [are] people who have fled from Afghanistan, al Qaeda men and Talibanis," Indian Defense Minister George Fernandes told Star News Television.

Indian Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh separately said, "The physical presence of U.S. troops in certain parts of Pakistan is clearly known to us and it is not an inhibiting factor in policy determination."

Meanwhile a senior U.S. defense official in Washington, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said there are signs that Pakistani troops are preparing to move toward Kashmir from the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, where they are searching for al Qaeda fighters and Taliban members.

The warning of al Qaeda fighters in Kashmir came as India sharply criticized a speech by Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf a day earlier, in which he said Pakistan would fight back "with full might" if attacked by India.

Mr. Singh repeated India's charge that Gen. Musharraf has done little to curb cross-border infiltration by Islamic militants into Indian-controlled Kashmir. He also called his speech Monday night "disappointing and dangerous."

"Disappointing as it merely repeats some earlier reassurances that remain unfulfilled today," Mr. Singh said. "Dangerous because of deliberate posturing; tensions have been added, not reduced."

The nuclear-armed South Asian rivals also cranked up their war rhetoric after Pakistan test-fired another missile, which is capable of carrying nuclear warheads into India.

The Abdali missile fired yesterday was the third nuclear-capable rocket tested by Pakistan since Saturday.

Despite international pressure, India said yesterday that it was unlikely that Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee would hold talks with Gen. Musharraf.

"You cannot put a pistol of terrorism to my temple with the finger on the trigger and say, 'Dialogue with me, or I will release this trigger of terrorism,'" Mr. Singh said.

Russian President Vladimir Putin offered to bring Mr. Vajpayee and Gen. Musharraf together during an Asian summit in Kazakhstan next week.

Pakistan has accepted, but Mr. Singh reiterated that India would not resume dialogue until Pakistan stopped attacks by Pakistan-based Islamic militants.

Addressing concerns that the subcontinental rivalry could unleash a war between the two nations, Mr. Singh restated India's policy that it would not strike first with nuclear weapons.

"India has not ever spoken of nuclear weapons," he said.

After a NATO luncheon in Italy, Secretary-General George Robertson said President Bush, Mr. Putin and 18 other alliance leaders "share a deep common concern" and urged India and Pakistan "to de-escalate and resume talking together."

Pakistan's Foreign Office spokesman in Islamabad responded to Mr. Singh yesterday by saying India first deployed troops at the border.

"The intemperate and shrill statements by its leaders have also served to heighten tensions between the two countries," he said, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

Britain, meanwhile, kept up diplomatic pressure on Pakistan.

"President Musharraf is under no doubt about expectations of the international community to take action, as well as the action he already has taken, to crack down on cross-border terrorism," British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said after meeting Gen. Musharraf.

Mr. Straw planned to see Mr. Vajpayee in New Delhi today.

India and Pakistan have fought three wars since achieving independence from Britain in 1947, two of them over Kashmir. Both nations claim the Himalayan province in its entirety.

The two nations put 1 million troops on high alert on both sides of the border after New Delhi blamed Pakistan-based militants for a December suicide assault on the Indian Parliament.

The troops regularly exchange gunfire and heavy artillery and mortar fire.

Relations were further strained two weeks ago after an assault on an Indian army base in Kashmir killed 33 persons.

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