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South Asia: Putin, Jiang Fail To Broker Direct India-Pakistan Talks

Prospects for direct talks in Almaty between the leaders of India and Pakistan faded today as each side angrily blamed the other for their dispute over Kashmir. The presidents of Russia and China had hoped to bring the two leaders together at an Asian security summit in Kazakhstan in a bid to stop a full-scale war between the nuclear-capable neighbors. RFE/RL reports that the failure of Moscow and Beijing to defuse the tensions leaves it up to Washington to make the next move toward brokering peace.

Prague, 4 June 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Jiang Zemin failed today in their effort to bring together the leaders of India and Pakistan for face-to-face talks over the Kashmir crisis.

Both Putin and Jiang had said they hoped today's 16-country security summit in Almaty, Kazakhstan, would be an opportunity to bring together Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf and Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee.

After it became clear that he would not be able to bring the two leaders together for direct talks on the crisis, Putin told reporters in Almaty that he remains very concerned about the potential for war. "We cannot help but be concerned about the explosive situation in the relations between Pakistan and India, which threatens to seriously destabilize the situation in the whole South Asian subcontinent. I am convinced that we, as the leaders of very important countries in the region, must make every effort to solve these problems together," Putin said.

It was the Indian government that vetoed the idea of bringing Musharraf and Vajpayee together. New Delhi refuses to make any official contact with Pakistani officials on the issue of Kashmir until Islamabad first takes steps to put an end to attacks in Indian territory by Islamic militants based in Pakistan.

Vajpayee and Musharraf did sit in the same room during the plenary session of the Almaty summit. But instead of an easing of tensions, the session led to an angry exchange of accusations. Each blamed the other for the military standoff along the Line of Control that divides Kashmir between India and Pakistan.

Musharraf presented himself as the leader of a peaceful country that is being threatened by a hostile neighbor. "We do not want war. We will not initiate war. But if war is imposed on us, we will defend ourselves with the utmost resolution and determination," Musharraf said.

Musharraf also attempted to present himself as a man who is ready for unconditional negotiations on Kashmir. "We have stated repeatedly that, instead of accusations, threats, and dangerous escalation, we need to return to the path of dialogue and negotiations," the Pakistani president said.

But Vajpayee rejected Musharraf's remarks -- along with the idea of any talks on Kashmir -- unless Pakistan first brings an end to cross-border attacks in Indian territory. "As far as an India-Pakistan dialogue is concerned, it is India which has always taken the initiative for it. In the space of the last four years, I have been to Lahore and invited President Musharraf to Agra. We have repeatedly said that we are willing to discuss all issues with Pakistan, including Jammu and Kashmir. But for that [to happen], cross-border terrorism has to end," Vajpayee said.

Musharraf responded to the accusation that he supports terrorism by repeating Islamabad's position that the Islamic militants fighting in Kashmir are freedom fighters. "We cannot condone, for any reason, the rapacious policies of certain states that forcibly occupy territories and deny freedom to peoples for decades on end," Musharraf said.

But Vajpayee refused to acknowledge Musharraf's allegation that serious human-rights abuses are being committed against Muslims by Indian authorities in Kashmir. Instead, he repeated India's view that the first step toward peace must be an immediate halt to cross-border infiltrations. "President Musharraf has again made the commitment that cross-border infiltration will stop. You would agree that the past record makes us very cautious about accepting such promises unquestioningly," Vajpayee said.

Indian Deputy Foreign Minister Omar Abdullah explained to journalists yesterday why New Delhi refuses to pull its troops away from the border with Pakistan based on Musharraf's promises. "There will be no de-escalation on the [India-Pakistan] border. If we had to de-escalate on the basis of words from Pakistan, we would de-escalate it after a much better speech on 12 January. If you look at Musharraf's last speech, that's given us absolutely no reason, on the basis of words, to de-escalate. We will de-escalate on the basis of actions and as of right now, it is too early to suggest that any action has been taken on the ground that would necessitate a de-escalation," Abdullah said.

The lack of a breakthrough on the Kashmir crisis during the Almaty summit has increased the concerns about war amongt people living in Kashmir. Thousands of nervous residents on each side of the Line of Control have been leaving their homes, and heavy artillery fire on both sides is continuing today.

The failure of Putin and Jiang to bring the Indian and Pakistani leaders together leaves the next step in the diplomatic process up to the United States.

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell told journalists in Barbados yesterday that Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage plans to leave for the subcontinent later today in an attempt to ease tensions. "We will continue with the full-court diplomatic press [all-out diplomatic initiative] that we have had under way, with my deputy [Richard Armitage] going in [later this week]. And then, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld will be heading into the region in another week to 10 days' time. After he concludes meetings on NATO and visits in the Persian Gulf, he will be going to India and Pakistan," Powell said.

Significantly, Powell explained a course toward peace that supports New Delhi's view that Pakistan must first take action against the militants. "With respect to India and Pakistan, it's a situation that continues to concern us deeply. I spoke to President Musharraf over the weekend, once again encouraging him to do everything to restrain all activity, to end all activity across the Line of Control [in Kashmir]. And when that takes place in a way that is obvious and demonstrable to all, then we would call upon India to take de-escalatory steps so we can start moving in the other direction," Powell said.

Until recently, with Washington needing cooperation from Pakistan for the international campaign against terrorism, U.S. officials had been careful not to overtly criticize Musharraf's military regime.

An echo now from Washington on India's call for Islamabad to first take action may be the most significant development during a week in which the peace process appears to be making little progress.