US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, noting some progress towards easing Pakistan-India tensions, Thursday said the United States had no evidence of al-Qaeda activists operating from Azad Kashmir. As the American official claimed a degree of decline in the tension, Foreign Minister Abdul Sattar saw a continuing threat to Pakistan from the large number of Indian troops deployed across the Line of Control and the working boundary.
Addressing a news conference at the Foreign Office in the federal capital, Islamabad, jointly with Foreign Minister Abdul Sattar, Rumsfeld said there were intelligence reports about al-Qaeda men operating in Kashmir. "But it (their presence) is not verifiable," he hastened to add, admitting the US had no evidence in this regard.
"The anti-terror cooperation between Pakistan and the United States was so close that it would not have been difficult to track down al-Qaeda men if there had been any clue to their presence here," the visiting dignitary observed after holding talks with the host leadership. He was all praise for Islamabad's role in the ongoing war on terrorism. Of Pakistan-India tensions, Rumsfeld said it was a collective goal of President George Bush, Secretary Colin Powell and British Prime Minister Tony Blair to ensure de-escalation between the nuclear-armed neighbors. He underscored the imperative of contacts between the two sides to lower the existing level of animosity.
Earlier, he held detailed talks with President Musharraf and Chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee General Aziz Khan. During the meetings, India's recent steps towards de-escalation, Pakistan's position on the crisis and the situation in Afghanistan came up for discussion.
In response to a query, Rumsfeld said "some progress" had been achieved in terms of tension reduction. In this context, he cited the measures initiated by Indian and Pakistani leaders, saying the steps had contributed significantly to setting in motion the process of de-escalation.
But Foreign Minister Abdul Sattar tended to differ with Rumsfeld's perception, saying: "There is no change whatsoever in the capability of the Indian forces massed on our border and, therefore, there is no reduction in the threat." He lauded the role the US was playing in resolving the current standoff. He suggested the Bush administration could do more to pressure India into withdrawing its forces to peace-time positions.
Rumsfeld, who ducked a question about flagrant human rights violations in Indian-occupied Kashmir, thought anyone who killed innocent people was a terrorist.
Asked if he had seen any willingness for a reduction of military presence at the borders in Delhi and Islamabad, the secretary replied it was up to the two sovereign nations to take a decision. "What other countries can do is to try to be helpful in reducing the tensions," he said, adding it was stressful for the forces to remain on high alert for a long period.
He felt the two neighbors needed to have diplomatic relations and communicate with each other by means of rail, road and air. In case of Pakistan and India, he stressed, it was all the more essential to have such links.
He strongly dispelled the impressions that he had brought proposals to verify alleged militants' infiltration into the restive Kashmir region. "It is inaccurate to say that I have brought any proposal. We have no problem if our people sit down to see any technical ways to reduce the flow of infiltration. We will be happy to supply technical people for the purpose, provided we are asked for it."
He described his meetings with Gen. Musharraf and Gen. Aziz Khan as good and said he thanked the president and the foreign minister for superb cooperation extended by Pakistan to the US and coalition forces in the fight against global terrorism.
Answering a question, Sattar claimed Pakistani authorities had been doing their best to identify al-Qaeda cells and individuals in the country. "We are grateful to the US for the assistance provided to us in accomplishing the task."
Describing de-escalation as Pakistan's immediate priority, Sattar said it was encouraging to see the US engaged in the region to promote a lasting solution to the Jammu and Kashmir dispute. He advocated for the settlement of the Kashmir issue in conformity with principles of justice and international laws.
Safiullah Gul PRAVDA.Ru Pakistan
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