President Bush said Thursday that he would send Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld to India and Pakistan next week to try to head off war between the two nuclear powers.
"We are making it very clear to both Pakistan and India that war will not serve their interests," Mr. Bush told reporters after a Cabinet meeting. "We are part of an international coalition applying pressure to both parties."
The surprise announcement underscored the White House's concern about the tensions between the rival nations over the disputed region of Kashmir. Secretary of State Colin L. Powell has already sent his top aide, Richard Armitage, to the region.
The president also urged President Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan to "live up to his word" and stop terrorist activity in Kashmir.
Mr. Bush spoke to reporters in a brief photo-and-question session after this morning's Cabinet meeting. Mr. Powell and Mr. Rumsfeld sat beside him as he spoke.
At the Pentagon later, Mr. Rumsfeld said he had not decided which days he would be in India and Pakistan. The secretary said the situation was so sensitive that he could not discuss his trip in detail.
"My instinct on this subject is to simply recognize that the two countries are clearly in a situation where they are not talking directly to each other and they have substantial disagreements," he told reporters.
Other questions remained unanswered after Mr. Bush's announcement. Most intriguing, at least in the initial absence of an explanation, was why Mr. Bush chose his secretary of defense rather than his secretary of state to go to the region in what appears at first glance to be essentially a diplomatic mission rather than a military one.
On the other hand, it is not unusual in Washington for an official who has the president's confidence to assume duties and influence that seem to extend beyond his formal portfolio.
Whatever the explanation, there was no mistaking the importance attached to the tensions in the region. Mr. Bush said both Mr. Rumsfeld and Mr. Powell were "analyzing what it would take to protect American lives if need be."
At his Pentagon briefing, Mr. Rumsfeld said that he had made no decision on whether any American troops based in Pakistan or India would be withdrawn because of concern over possible war.
The Associated Press reported that Mr. Powell was at least considering whether to advise American diplomats and their dependents to leave India.
There has long been tension between predominantly Hindu India and the mostly Muslim Pakistan, but the current incendiary situation is complicated by the continuing American campaign to root out remnants of Osama bin Laden's Al Qaeda terrorist network, which is believed to have settled in parts of Pakistan after being chased out of Afghanistan.
Mr. Bush vowed today that the tensions in the region would not distract the United States from pursuing terrorists. "We're doing everything we can to shore up our effort on the Pakistan-Afghan border," Mr. Bush said. "We're going to hunt them down."
India, with its history of freely elected governments, is a more natural friend of the United States than is Pakistan, which has often been ruled by dictators like General Musharraf, who seized power in a 1999 coup. But the United States needs the cooperation of Pakistan, Afghanistan's neighbor, in its anti-terrorist campaign. The White House and Pentagon have repeatedly said the Pakistanis are providing excellent cooperation.
India and Pakistan have gone to war three times. In any conventional war, India would have the edge as the more populous nation with the larger army.
An even worse nightmare would be a war that starts with rifles and old-fashioned artillery and turns into an exchange of nuclear weapons. An American intelligence assessment, completed only days ago, warned that a full-scale nuclear exchange between the two rivals could kill up to 12 million people immediately and injure up to seven million, Pentagon officials have said.
(China Daily May 31, 2002)