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U.S.: Powell Trip Aimed At Easing Tensions

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell will be visiting Pakistan and India soon as he continues to build world support for the U.S. campaign against international terrorism. The details of his trip have been withheld. But analysts say they expect Powell will try to ease new tensions between the two South Asian neighbors, which also have nuclear arsenals.

Washington, 12 October 2001 (RFE/RL) -- As the U.S. attacks terrorist targets in Afghanistan, Secretary of State Colin Powell is expected to seek to defuse further violence in the region on his upcoming visit to India and Pakistan.

The State Department has given few details of Powell's trip, saying only that the former general will depart for Islamabad and New Delhi "after Friday [12 October]."

But at a time when some Indian officials are openly advocating military strikes against Pakistani-backed guerrillas in the contested region of Kashmir, analysts say Powell's visit will probably involve more than just talks on the U.S.-led military action in nearby Afghanistan.

Ted Galen Carpenter, a foreign-policy and defense expert at the Cato Institute, a Washington think-tank, said Powell will seek to avoid a spiral of violence in the region as the U.S. military action continues in Afghanistan.

"The last thing the United States would want to see happen now is a conflict between Pakistan and India. So it's going to be important for Powell to try to keep the lid on this."

Pakistan, which has a long border with Afghanistan and links with its ruling Taliban militia, has become the U.S.'s chief regional ally in its international coalition against terrorism.

Yet India accuses Pakistan of backing terrorists in Jammu-Kashmir, the Indian-controlled part of primarily Muslim Kashmir. An Islamic insurgency there has claimed 30,000 lives since 1989.

An attack by Pakistan-based suicide bombers killed 40 people in Jammu-Kashmir on 1 October. Since then, some Indian officials have called for striking guerrilla sites inside Pakistani Kashmir. Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee ruled that out yesterday.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher refused to comment yesterday on whether Powell will discuss Islamabad's support of the guerrillas with Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf. Musharraf called the guerrillas "freedom-fighters" on 8 October, but India has long insisted they are terrorists.

Boucher, however, reiterated that the U.S. has always encouraged the two nuclear rivals to show restraint and to ease tensions.

Dana Dillon, a South Asia expert with the Heritage Foundation, a Washington think-tank, said Powell would counsel patience with India. But he insisted that the U.S. faces a daunting task as Pakistan and India have already waged two wars over Kashmir since independence from Britain in 1947.

Dillon said: "Pakistan has clearly identified Kashmir as part of their national identity and the struggle to get Kashmir back from India as part of their national identity. There doesn't seem to be any room for compromise on the positions held by both India and Pakistan."

Still, Powell may seek further concessions from Musharraf. At U.S. insistence, the Pakistani president has already distanced his country from the Taliban and opened it to some U.S. support troops. He faces strong internal protests from Islamic fundamentalists over his alliance with the U.S.

Carpenter made this observation about what Powell expects from Musharraf: "Quietly, I think he's going to be pressuring Pakistan to begin to distance itself from the Kashmiri rebels, which is not going to be popular, but I think he is going to simply stress to the regime this is a movement that does attack civilians, it uses terrorist tactics. And if Pakistan is serious about being an ongoing part of the antiterrorist coalition, this policy has to change."

Powell's visit is part of a larger diplomatic effort to ease tensions over Kashmir. British Prime Minister Tony Blair recently visited both countries. And German Foreign Secretary Juergen Chrobog was due in New Delhi on yesterday ahead of a visit later in October by German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder.