Rejecting a war in South Asia, US Secretary of State Colin Powell said Wednesday that he would work patiently to ease tensions that have brought Pakistan and nuclear rival India to the brink of armed conflict.
Powell, arriving Wednesday on the first leg of an Asian tour aimed at pulling the two nations back from confrontation, praised Pakistan President Gen. Pervez Musharraf for launching a recent crackdown on Islamic militants blamed by India for acts of terrorism.
Ahead of a dinner meeting with Musharraf, Powell said he planned to find out what steps the Pakistani leader planned to take to implement declarations he made in a speech Saturday against terror and Islamic extremism.
``We'll be patient,'' Powell said in remarks aired on Pakistani television. ``I think my presence here shows the importance that President Bush attaches to this issue and his desire to find a peaceful solution. We really cannot have a war in South Asia. We have to find a way to work our way through this crisis.''
Powell planned to travel to Afghanistan for a brief stop Thursday to discuss plans with the new interim administration to rebuild the war-shattered country, then head onward to India.
Powell met with Pakistani Foreign Minister Abdul Sattar and discussed the standoff, prompted by a suicide attack by Islamic militants on India's Parliament on Dec. 13 that killed 14 people. The two countries have mobilized nearly 1 million soldiers on their border.
India has said the attackers were from Pakistan-based militant groups fighting for the independence of the Indian-ruled portion of Kashmir, the Himalayan territory divided between the two countries that has been the flashpoint of two of their three wars.
In a speech Saturday, Musharraf declared that Pakistan was opposed to terrorism and announced a ban on five groups, including Islamic and Kashmiri militants, and restrictions on religious schools that have become terrorist breeding grounds.
Authorities have arrested 1,957 people. But India has said it will not pull its troops back from the border until it sees more concrete action.
Powell called Musharraf's speech ``historic'' and was recognized as such by the international community.
``I think that the Indian response was quite measured, and I think they're reflecting on the speech,'' Powell said.
The United States wants to find a way to ease the military tensions and some of the political steps taken in the current standoff, such as bans by India and Pakistan on overflights by each other's airlines, Powell said.
Pakistan has been a pivotal ally in the war against terrorism in Afghanistan, allowing US forces to use its bases and stationing its own troops along the border to capture fighters loyal to Osama bin Laden and their Taliban allies fleeing US bombardment.
The United States has been concerned that the current standoff between India and Pakistan over Kashmir could lead to war and also hamper efforts to crush bin Laden's al-Qaida network, blamed for the Sept. 11 attacks on New York and Washington.
(China Daily January 18, 2002)