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Pakistan Arrests 130 Militants As Leaders Gather for Nepal Summit

Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf were both in Kathmandu, Nepal today for a South Asian regional summit, but did not speak with one another.

According to Indian government spokeswoman Nirupama Rao, “there are no indications” that the two leaders will meet one-on-one to discuss the continuing tensions between their countries, which both have nuclear capabilities. The massive buildup of troops on either side of the border does not provide a “conducive climate” for productive talks, she said.

Tens of thousands of troops have amassed along the 1,100-mile Line of Control, a military ceasefire line dividing the disputed Himalayan territory of Kashmir between Pakistan and India. Both India and Pakistan claim the entire region, which has a Muslim majority, while others support autonomy for the region.

The arrest of the 130 suspected militants has been Pakistan’s most sweeping response to India’s demands that two Pakistan-based militant groups be shut down. India has accused the Lashkar-e-Tayyiba and the Jaish-e-Mohammed, both militant Kashmiri separatist groups, of carrying out a Dec. 13 attack on the New Delhi parliament building. The attack left 14 dead, including the five assailants.

Pakistani police began this most recent sweep for suspected militants on Thursday, concentrating on the coastal city of Karachi, the border town of Lahore and numerous southern cities. According to Pakistani Interior Ministry official Brig Javed Iqbal Cheema, “the crackdown which started last night is still going on.”

Pakistani authorities had earlier frozen the assets of Lashkar-e-Tayyiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed and arrested dozens of their members, including the groups’ leaders, Mohammed Saeed and Maulana Masood Azhar.

Indian Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh had said those earlier actions were “a welcome step forward,” but that he wanted a full crackdown on the militant groups before one-on-one talks between the leaders could proceed.

Pakistan said it hopes its recent effort will encourage India to pull back its troops from the border and respond to Pakistan’s repeated requests for dialogue.

“Obviously, it now depends on India,” Maj. Gen. Rashid Qureshi, Pakistan’s top military spokesman, said.

India said it is up to Pakistan to fully shut down the militant groups, which fight India’s control of Kashmir, before talks can ensue.

“The onus is on Pakistan,” spokeswoman Rao said.

Qureshi said today that China, Pakistan’s traditional ally, would support Pakistan if armed conflict should erupt.

“China stood by Pakistan and still stands by Pakistan,” and “has said it will support Pakistan in all eventualities,” Qureshi told a news conference.

The opening of the South Asian summit has been postponed until Saturday because Musharraf was four hours late arriving in Nepal after flying in from a stopover in China. Organizers cancelled a Saturday retreat at a Himalayan resort that had been planned to allow the leaders to get to know one another in a relaxed atmosphere.

U.S. might send envoy

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said Friday he may send an envoy to the region to try to ease mounting tensions between India and Pakistan and help avert a war.

“It’s important to our international campaign against terrorism,” Powell said.

Francis Taylor, director of the State Department’s counterterrorism office, is scheduled to visit India and Pakistan next week.

Powell praised Musharraf’s latest moves to arrest suspected militants, calling them “bold statements” against terrorism, and State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said the United States believes Musharraf “has made the strategic decision to move against terrorism.”

U.S. officials are reportedly optimistic that a diplomatic solution will preempt a violent confrontation between the nuclear rivals.

“I think both the Indian government and the Pakistani government realize that it is not in anyone’s interest for a war to break out in South Asia,” Powell said today.

“I don’t think they’re going to go to war,” Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said Thursday. “I think they’re going to work things out.”


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