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South Asia: Rumsfeld's Approach On Kashmir Balances Demands Of Both Sides

U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has been meeting with Pakistani officials in Islamabad today on the final leg of his visit to the Asian subcontinent. Remarks made yesterday by Rumsfeld in New Delhi are being seen as a sign that Washington continues to distance itself from its earlier position on the Kashmir dispute, a position that Western analysts have called "necessary favoritism toward Pakistan." But reports that developments in Islamabad today also show that Washington is striving for a balanced approach to both Pakistan and India on Kashmir.

Prague, 14 June 2002 (RFE/RL) -- U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has praised Islamabad's cooperation in the fight against Al-Qaeda, just a day after saying he had received information that the terrorist network may be operating near the Line of Control that divides Kashmir between India and Pakistan.

Speaking at a press conference in Islamabad today after talks with Pakistani Foreign Minister Abdul Sattar, Rumsfeld said there is no solid evidence that Al-Qaida is active in or near Kashmir. "I do not have evidence, [and] the United States does not have evidence, of Al-Qaeda in Kashmir. We do have a good deal of scraps of intelligence that come in from people saying that they believe Al-Qaeda are in Kashmir or in various locations. It tends to be speculative. It is not actionable. It is not verifiable," Rumsfeld said.

Rumsfeld said Islamabad has cooperated so closely with Washington against Al-Qaeda since 11 September that he is certain Pakistani authorities would find and deal with any Al-Qaeda terrorists known to be within Pakistani territory. "The cooperation [in the war on terrorism] we have received from this [Pakistani] government has been truly wonderful. Every reasonable approach has been responded to in a responsible and a constructive and a prompt way," Rumsfeld said.

Rumsfeld also rejected suggestions that Washington's cooperation with Islamabad has been driven solely by military concerns linked to the antiterrorism campaign in neighboring Pakistan. "The relationship between the United States and Pakistan -- quite apart from the coalition and our bilateral relationships with respect to the war on terrorism -- is an important bilateral relationship for the United States. We value the growing, constructive political and economic and military-to-military relationships that we have developed and look forward to seeing them strengthened each week and each month and each year as we go forward," Rumsfeld said.

Pakistani Foreign Minister Sattar today denied that his country is supporting incursions into Kashmir by members of Al-Qaeda or other Islamic militants. He said any such activity is the result of individuals rather than the state. "Pakistan authorities are doing all that we can in order to locate and identify any Al-Qaeda cells or individuals in our country. We are very grateful to the United States for the assistance that U.S. agencies have provided to us in the form of locating these people, their addresses and so on," Sattar said.

It was less than two weeks ago that U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell called on Pakistan to halt militant incursions into Kashmir as a first step toward de-escalating the military standoff with India.

Western analysts say Washington had previously shown "necessary favoritism toward Pakistan" because it needed Islamabad's operational support for the antiterrorism campaign in neighboring Afghanistan.

But that position has been shifting toward a more balanced stance on Kashmir rather than a pro-India approach. In fact, the U.S. continues to support India's call for Pakistan to halt militant activities in Indian territory.

But Rumsfeld made it clear today that Washington also backs Pakistan's call for negotiations with India on the status of Kashmir, a position that New Delhi continues to reject. "There is no magic wand in this world. In the last analysis, people [and] countries sort out their own problems. They can do it with some help and, goodness knows, that help is available. But problems get sorted out on the ground," Rumsfeld said.

Sattar today repeated Islamabad's calls for direct negotiations with India on the Kashmir dispute. "A settlement of the Kashmir question, in conformity with the principles of justice and international law, will ensure the establishment of durable peace and normalization of relations between Pakistan and India," Sattar said.

Sattar also rejected suggestions that Rumsfeld's remarks on the possibility of Al-Qaeda fighters inside Pakistan show that a rift is growing between Washington and Islamabad. "President George W. Bush has personally invested a lot of his time and attention. Secretary of State Colin Powell and Secretary Rumsfeld have been indefatigable in their diplomacy for peace in our region. [Pakistani] President [Pervez] Musharraf and his government have extended full cooperation in these efforts for peace," Sattar said.

Sattar went on to say that the U.S. diplomatic initiative on the Kashmir dispute is welcomed in Islamabad. "Even more encouraging for us is the United States' policy to remain engaged in this region for a lasting solution of the Kashmir problem. Efforts need to be sustained so that the root cause of recurrent tensions between Pakistan and India is addressed in a meaningful manner," Sattar said.

Rumsfeld plans to return to Washington after completing talks later today with Musharraf.