- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 22, 2002

Time for India, Pakistan

India and Pakistan have the best opportunity to reopen talks on all issues from Kashmir to terrorism, now that both nuclear nations have reduced tensions on their border and held elections, according to Robert Blackwill, the U.S. ambassador to India.

Mr. Blackwill told the Indian Express newspaper that in a "context in which we have had a successful, credible, positive election in [Kashmir] as well as an election in Pakistan where there will be a new prime minister in a couple of weeks, we think there is space for discussion between the two countries."

India held provincial elections in the Indian-controlled part of the disputed Kashmir region earlier this month, but authorities there are still negotiating to form a government. In Pakistan, Islamic fundamentalist parties did better than expected in parliamentary elections two weeks ago and could play a pivotal role in electing a prime minister.

Violence continued yesterday in Kashmir, where Indian troops clashed with Islamic militants. Four rebels, three army officers, a policeman and two civilians were killed in separate clashes.

Meanwhile, India said it will begin to withdraw troops from the Pakistani border but not from Kashmir. India and Pakistan last week announced they will reduce their border troops, which had increased to more than 1 million soldiers between the two countries.

Mr. Blackwill said both countries should begin talks without preconditions but that the negotiations should include terrorism and Kashmir. India accuses Pakistan of supporting terrorism in the Pakistan-controlled part of Kashmir.

"Terrorism against India has to end," Mr. Blackwill said. "That is an absolutely crucial part of this. We continue to work on it ceaselessly to end any terrorism against India emanating from Pakistan, India or Pakistan-occupied territory."

The ambassador advocated "parallel" diplomatic efforts, under which talks would resume and Pakistan would take stronger action on terrorism.

"Parallel efforts, less rhetoric, more discussion, progress on cross-border terrorism, demobilization of forces all of this offers some promise of moving ahead," Mr. Blackwill said.

"If India and Pakistan don't talk seriously," he added, "how will this crisis ever go away?"

Service for Australia

The Australian Embassy has organized a memorial service on Thursday for the victims of the terrorist bombing on the Indonesian resort island of Bali.

The service will begin at 11 a.m. at the Washington National Cathedral.

A condolence book can be signed from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the embassy, 1601 Massachusetts Ave. NW. Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and his wife, Alma, signed the book last week.

Australia lost more citizens than any other nation in the Oct. 12 bombing, more than half the 180 dead and 92 missing.

Australian Ambassador Michael Thawley compared the loss to the September 11 terrorist attacks.

"Australians have been absolutely devastated by this attack," he said on the 'PBS News Hour With Jim Lehrer' last week. "These were young people holidaying in Bali, a place that is well known and very well liked by Australians.

"At any one time, there are 15,000-to-20,000 Australians in Bali and to see young people slaughtered in this way, of course, is just a ghastly thing."

Bangladesh no terror base

Bangladesh is not a base for terrorism, the U.S. ambassador to Bangladesh said yesterday.

Ambassador Mary Ann Peters, in a statement, disputed a report in Time magazine that said 150 members of Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda terrorist network arrived in the port of Chittagong in December aboard the ship, M.V. Mecca.

Mrs. Peters said the U.S. Embassy "follows terrorism issues closely and has no evidence of support" for terrorism in Bangladesh, which considers itself a moderate and tolerant Islamic nation.

"Nor is the embassy aware of any basis for the story that a ship called the M.V. Mecca dropped off a large al Qaeda group in Chittagong last year."

Bangladesh is not a "hotbed of radical Islam," the ambassador said, adding her appreciation for the government's cooperation in the war against terrorism.

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