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Powell Pledges U.S. Involvement in India-Pakistan Dialogue

Powell said, adding that the two nations would need to ask for such assistance, ”We stand ready to assist but it has to be a dialogue between the two sides.”

According to Powell, Pakistan’s President Gen. Pervez Musharraf said his nation was ready to sit down with India and discuss the crisis.

“Pakistan is ready for such a dialogue to begin,” Powell told reporters after talks with Musharraf.

The secretary’s comments came during a press conference with Pakistani Foreign Minister Abdul Sattar in Islamabad. Powell is visiting Pakistan today and is due in India tomorrow.

The two countries’ armies remain massed along the border and near the disputed region of Kashmir. Sattar called the continued deployment a cause for concern.

“All of us have reason to be anxious because the forces are poised on the border… even a small incident can spark a chain of events that is not in the interest of peace,” he said.

The top Indian official in Kashmir said there had been a drop in attacks by Kashmiri separatists since Pakistan began its crackdown. And in New Delhi, Indian Home Minister Lal K. Advani praised a speech in which Musharraf condemned terrorism and vowed to curb Islamic militants.

“The speech which Gen. Musharraf has made is important, is in a way path-breaking,” Advani said. “I have not heard earlier any other Pakistani leader denouncing theocracy in the manner in which Gen. Musharraf did.”

Tensions between mostly Hindu India and Muslim Pakistan have remained high since a Dec. 13 suicide attack on the New Delhi parliament building killed 14 people, including the five assailants. India blamed Kashmiri separatist groups and called on Pakistan to crack down on two bands of Islamic militants suspected of having carried out the attack.

Pakistan has responded, detaining 1,957 suspected militants and shutting down more than 500 offices.

There are about a dozen Pakistan-based militant groups fighting India’s control of 45 percent of Kashmir. India considers Jammu-Kashmir, the only Indian state with a Muslim majority, to be an integral part of its country, but Pakistan wants a plebiscite to determine to which country, if any, Kashmir belongs.

Powell is expected to discuss efforts to open a dialogue between the two nations when he arrives in India.

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