Election Section

Talks between India, Pakistan unlikely after rhetoric

By Beth Duff-Brown, The Associated Press
Wednesday May 29, 2002

NEW DELHI, India — India sharply criticized a speech by Pakistan’s military leader as “disappointing and dangerous” on Tuesday and asserted that al-Qaida terrorists now are in disputed Kashmir. 

The nuclear-armed South Asian rivals also cranked up their war rhetoric after Pakistan test-fired another missile capable of carrying nuclear warheads into India. The HatfII, or Abdali, missile was the third such missile tested by Pakistan since Saturday. 

Despite international pressure, India said Tuesday it was unlikely that Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee would hold peace talks with President Gen. Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan. 

“You cannot put a pistol of terrorism to my temple with the finger on the trigger and say, ’Dialogue with me, or I will release this trigger of terrorism,”’ Indian Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh said. 

Russian President Vladimir Putin offered to bring Vajpayee and Musharraf together during an Asian summit in Kazakhstan next week. Pakistan has accepted, but Singh reiterated India would not resume dialogue until Pakistan stopped attacks in India-controlled Kashmir by Pakistan-based Islamic militants. 

Also Tuesday, India’s defense minister said fighters from Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaida network and from Afghanistan’s former ruling Taliban are in Pakistan-controlled Kashmir. 

“We have information that the number of terrorists who are on the other side of the border ... (are) people who have fled from Afghanistan, al-Qaida men and Talibanis,” Defense Minister George Fernandes told Star News Television. 

Singh also warned that American forces in the region were not a deterrent to a possible strike on Pakistan. 

“The physical presence of U.S. troops in certain parts of Pakistan is clearly known to us ... and it is not an inhibiting factor in policy determination,” he said. 

Singh also restated India’s policy that it would not strike first with nuclear weapons if a war should erupt. “India has not ever spoken of nuclear weapons,” he said. 

In Washington, the U.S. military was worried that the dispute could interfere with its search for al-Qaida fighters, a Pentagon spokeswoman said. A senior defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said there are signs Pakistani troops are preparing to move toward Kashmir from the Pakistan-Afghan border, where they are helping with the search. 

After a NATO luncheon in Italy, Secretary-General Lord Robertson said President Bush, Putin and 18 other alliance leaders “share a deep common concern” and urged India and Pakistan “to de-escalate and resume talking together.”