- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 16, 2003

WASHINGTON, April 16 (UPI) — U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage may visit India and Pakistan early next month to help defuse tensions between South Asia's two nuclear neighbors, official sources told United Press International on Wednesday.

The two neighbors, who have already fought three wars in the last 56 years, once again are threatening to go to war.

The sources said that Armitage was scheduled to leave for the subcontinent next week but had to delay the visit because of the Bush administration's preoccupation with the Middle East.

Armitage is regarded as Washington's main troubleshooter and a tough negotiator. The decision to send him shows renewed U.S. interest in another global flashpoint after successfully toppling the Saddam Hussein regime in Iraq. U.S. policy-makers have long felt that if not defused, the Kashmir dispute could lead to a nuclear conflict in South Asia, one of the world's most populous regions.

Talking to reporters in Washington Tuesday, Secretary of State Colin Powell said the United States does not think India can resolve the Kashmir dispute by resorting to force.

He also reminded Pakistan that Washington regards the cross-border militant attacks in the Indian Kashmir as acts of terrorism and wants Islamabad to stop them.

Senior diplomatic sources in Washington told UPI that Armitage would go to South Asia with a similar approach. In Islamabad, the sources said, he would urge Pakistani officials to immediately stop all infiltration into the Indian Kashmir while in New Delhi he would encourage the Indians not to use force against Pakistan.

He is also expected to encourage India and Pakistan to resume bilateral talks for settling their disputes.

Earlier this month, Indian Foreign Minister Yashwant Sinha warned Pakistan that India could launch a pre-emptive strike to prevent Muslim militants from entering the Kashmir valley.

And on Wednesday, Pakistan's Foreign Minister Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri warned India of massive retaliation if New Delhi tries to launch a pre-emptive strike on his country.

"They are threatening a nuclear war against us. So my response to this is, don't make that mistake," Kasuri said.

Commenting on these threats and counter-threats, a senior U.S. official told UPI last week, "We take such threats very seriously."

The United States has remained engaged in South Asia since early last year when India and Pakistan came close to fighting yet another war following a terrorist attack on the New Delhi parliament building.

Powell, who several times in the last 18 months has been forced to personally step in to defuse crises between India and Pakistan, on Tuesday promised to remain on the pulse of events in South Asia.

Pakistan has called for international mediation of the Kashmir dispute and a senior Pakistani diplomat in Washington told the Pakistani English-language newspaper Dawn that Islamabad will welcome Armitage's visit as "an important step towards defusing tensions over Kashmir."

India, however, has rejected outside mediation in the Kashmir dispute, insisting it is an internal problem.

Washington has made clear it would like to "facilitate" a dialogue, but has stressed it is not looking for a mediation role unless asked by both India and Pakistan to do so.

Kashmir has been disputed by India and Pakistan since their independence from Britain in 1947, and was the cause for two of the three wars they have fought since then.

A simmering separatist movement in the Indian Kashmir has caused the deaths of more than 30,000 people. India blames Pakistan for sending militants into the Kashmir valley for carrying out terrorist attacks, a charge Pakistan denies.



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