Rumsfeld told reporters, ”I have seen indications that there in fact are al-Qaida operating in the area… near the line of control” which divides the region between India and Pakistan.
The Secretary of Defense was in New Delhi, India, where he was meeting with Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee as part of a mission to help ease the military tensions that have brought the nuclear-capable neighbors to the brink of war.
“I do not have hard evidence of precisely how many, or who, or where,” added Rumsfeld, who earlier expressed concern that al-Qaida may try to provoke a war between the rivals.
India and Pakistan have positioned a million men along their 1,800-mile border from Kashmir to the Arabian Sea since a December 13 attack on India’s parliament, which was blamed on Islamic militants operating out of Pakistan.
India said their intelligence indicated al-Qaida operatives and former Taliban members had fled to Pakistan in the wake of the U.S. war on terrorism in Afghanistan. Indian leaders assert Pakistan then allowed the operatives to cross into Kashmir.
Pakistan has denied involvement in any of the attacks on India and promised to stop the movement of militants from the Pakistani side of Kashmir to the Indian side.
Rumsfeld praised Pakistan for helping in the war on terrorism, and commended the Pakistani government for capturing al-Qaida members and turning them over to U.S. authorities.
“Specifically in the case of al-Qaida in Pakistan, the Pakistani government has been very cooperative with the United States,” he said.
The comments come as tensions in the region appeared to be easing. Yesterday, India recalled its warships from near Pakistani waters, reopened its airspace to Pakistani passenger flights and named a new ambassador to the Pakistani capital of Islamabad.
After meeting with Prime Minister Vajpayee, the secretary traveled to Islamabad for meetings with Pakistani officials.