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Armitage Sees Beginning of India-Pakistan Dialogue

BY Admin  May 8, 2003 at 4:30 PM EST

He will visit New Delhi Friday to meet with Indian leaders to encourage diplomatic overtures between the two historic adversaries. Armitage stressed, however, that the United States does not see itself as an intermediary.

Armitage and Christina Rocca, the assistant secretary of state for South Asian affairs, met with Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf and Prime Minister Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali Thursday to discuss the disputed Kashmir region and ways to build on a recent thaw in relations between the two nations.

Jamali and his Indian counterpart, Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, spoke via telephone on April 28. The discussions resulted in both countries calling for renewed diplomatic and transportation links.

Following his meeting with Musharraf, Armitage told reporters that he was encouraged by the April meeting, calling it “a nascent beginning of a dialogue.”

“A dialogue over time can handle all aspects of a relationship,” he added, saying he felt the talks were “the beginning of a process.”

Armitage will visit Afghanistan briefly Friday before leaving for New Delhi to meet with Indian leaders.

The South Asian visit, Armitage’s third in a year, comes as tensions between the neighbors appear to be easing. The two countries amassed more than a million soldiers on their shared border after India blamed Pakistan-backed militants for a December 2001 attack on India’s Parliament.

In New Delhi, Vajpayee rejected Pakistan’s proposal that the two countries do away with their nuclear weapons and sign a no-war pact. Addressing Parliament, Vajpayee said India is not only concerned for its security because of Pakistan, but also because of other neighboring countries.

“Pakistan’s nuclear program is India-specific, but our own nuclear program goes beyond that,” he said. However, the prime minister also stressed the important of dialogue between the two foes.

“If you get an opportunity for good relations with neighbors we should not miss it,” he said. “Our development depends on peace. We don’t want war.”

While official information on the two countries’ nuclear capabilities is not available, Jane’s Strategic Weapon Systems estimates India has 100 to 150 nuclear warheads and Pakistan between 25 and 50.

The major point of conflict between the two is the thorny issue of Kashmir’s ownership, and resolution of this issue will be critical to any potential renewed diplomacy. India’s leaders have demanded an end to “cross-border terrorism” into the Indian section of Kashmir before they will engage in talks with Pakistan.

Pakistan has countered that closing the mountainous frontier is not possible and has proposed the establishment of international monitors to vouch for their assertion that they are not providing militants with official assistance.

Since leaders have publicly hinted at a rapprochement between India and Pakistan, violence in the Indian Kashmir region has flared, increasing worries that a larger number of militants are crossing the so-called “Line of Control” separating the Indian and Pakistani regions.

At least 20 people were reportedly killed Wednesday, including seven that Pakistani officials said were killed when Indian forces fired artillery across the Line of Control.

U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher denounced the violence.

“We have seen the media reports of further violent incidents on both sides of the Line of Control in Kashmir,” Boucher said Wednesday. “As we have said many times, we strongly believe that violence will not solve Kashmir’s problems. We want to see it end.”

India and Pakistan have fought three wars against each other since gaining independence from Britain in 1947, two of them over Kashmir.