India urged to give more evidence on 20 suspected terrorists it wants

Powell says Pakistan has taken concrete steps to curb extremists

January 18, 2002|By Frank Langfitt | Frank Langfitt,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

NEW DELHI, India - Arriving here to try to ease tensions between India and Pakistan, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell yesterday urged the Indian government to supply more evidence to Pakistan about 20 suspected terrorists whom India wants detained and handed over.

Powell, who had traveled from Afghanistan and meetings with Pakistan's president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, emphasized that Pakistan has already taken concrete steps to curb terrorism, as India had demanded.

"They are looking for action on the ground, that is perfectly understandable," Powell said of the Indian leaders. "We have seen some action with respect to the arrest of extremists. We have seen action with respect to the banning of organizations."

Powell continued: "It is up to India to make a judgment as a sovereign democratic nation as to whether these actions constitute sufficient basis for them to change the policies they are pursuing."

In a sign of a thaw, India has spoken approvingly of Musharraf's recent moves, including a statement he made in a nationally televised speech last weekend rejecting terrorism in all forms. But India has insisted that Pakistan do more before India considers pulling back hundreds of thousands of troops along the countries' 1,800-mile border.

"We have welcomed what Gen. Musharraf said on his speech on the 12th of January," India's External Affairs Minister, Jaswant Singh, at a joint news conference with Powell. "As soon as we see a demonstration of it on the ground, we will respond adequately and fully," Singh said.

In Afghanistan, Powell promised interim leader Hamid Karzai that the United States would aid the country in its rebuilding efforts.

"We will be with you in this current crisis and for the future," Powell told a joint news conference with Karzai. "We are committed to doing everything we can to assist you in this time of transition to a new Afghanistan, an Afghanistan where people will be able to live in peace and security."

Karzai reminded Powell that many Afghans wondered whether Washington would abandon them after full victory over the Taliban leadership, as it did after U.S.-backed rebels drove out Soviet troops in 1989.

"In all our meetings with the Afghan people, they ask us - `Is the United States committed? Will they stay with us?'" said Karzai. "Now I can tell them, `Yes, the U.S. will stay with us.'"

Powell had arrived from Pakistan, in a U.S. army helicopter from Bagram air base into Kabul under tight security.

"The United States presence here is still directed toward pulling up al-Qaida and Taliban," he said. "We don't want to leave any contamination behind."

Powell's visit to South Asia comes at a critical time, due to the war in Afghanistan and the tensions between India and Pakistan, two nuclear powers. The tensions escalated last month when gunmen attacked the Indian Parliament building here and killed seven people. Although no legislators were injured, the assault jolted the country.

New Delhi blamed Muslim militant groups in Pakistan and rushed hundreds of thousands of troops to the border in the biggest buildup in the region since 1971 when Pakistan and India fought their last full-scale war over the independence of Bangladesh.

Using the United States' attack on Afghanistan as a precedent, Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee demanded Pakistan crack down on terrorism or face his nation's wrath.

Last weekend, Musharraf began to comply. In addition to rejecting terrorism, he banned five Muslim extremist groups and has detained 2,000 suspected Islamic militants, according to Pakistani officials. The Indian government, though, is continuing to push Musharraf into giving up 20 suspected terrorists.

Among those on the list are Masood Azhar, a militant leader New Delhi blames for a bomb attack last October in Srinagar, the summer capital of the Indian state of Jammu-Kashmir.

Yesterday, Powell said Musharraf wanted India to provide more information on the suspects and had not ruled out handing over those who are not Pakistanis.

"So the more evidence we can provide the better" said Powell. "I'm pleased that the Indian government has indicated that they do have more information that would be helpful."

At the heart of the conflict between India and Pakistan is Kashmir, the disputed Himalayan region over which the countries have fought two wars, in 1947 and 1965. When Pakistan and India became independent of Great Britain in 1947 they were respectively partitioned into a majority Muslim and predominantly Hindu nation. Kashmir was caught in the middle.

Although Kashmir has a Muslim majority, the region's Hindu leader chose to stay with India and war erupted. In 1989, an independence movement emerged in Kashmir. In the subsequent bombings and shootings, tens of thousands of people have died.

Pakistan insists it only provides moral and diplomatic support to the rebels, but it is widely known that Islamabad has armed and trained fighters and sent them into Indian-controlled Kashmir. In his statement rejecting terrorism in all forms, Musharraf appeared to signal that Pakistan's support for an armed struggle in Kashmir would end.

Powell is scheduled to meet with Vajpayee today and again with Singh before heading to Japan for a meeting on financing for the reconstruction of Afghanistan.

Wire services contributed to this article.

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