Diplomatic mission hindered by deadly attack

Wednesday, May 15, 2002

NEW DELHI, India -- A senior U.S. diplomat visited New Delhi on Tuesday for talks aimed to ease tension between India and Pakistan, but her mission was complicated by the deadliest attack this year in Kashmir, the flashpoint of two previous wars.

Hours before Assistant Secretary of State Christina Rocca met with External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh and other Indian officials, gunmen opened fire at an army camp in Indian-controlled Kashmir.

At least 33 people were killed at the camp six miles south of Jammu.

Seven civilians on the bus carrying the gunmen died in an initial cross fire, with soldiers and their family members killed after the gunmen entered residential quarters, police said.

Police received no credible claim of responsibility for the attack, in which the three militants were also killed.

At least 45 people were wounded.

"On behalf of my government, I would like to unequivocally condemn the attack," Rocca said. "It is just this type of barbarism that the war on terrorism is determined to stop."

Her trip reflects increasing U.S. concern that a six-month border standoff could erupt into war between India and Pakistan, longtime rivals that have fought three wars since independence half a century ago -- two of them over Kashmir -- and now both possess nuclear weapons.

Islamic militants, many of them based in Pakistan, have been fighting since 1989 to wrest the Indian-controlled portion of mostly Muslim Kashmir from New Delhi's rule. At least 30,000 soldiers, militants and civilians have been killed, and rights groups say the number is twice that high.

New Delhi believes that Washington should do more to force Pakistan to rein in the extremists and push Islamabad to hand over suspected terrorists who are on India's most-wanted list.

Home Minister Lak Krishna Advani told Parliament it was no coincidence the attack happened during Rocca's visit. "The incident appears to have been timed to demonstrate to the world that despite the global coalition against terrorism, terrorists in Jammu and Kashir will continue to be active," he said.

Rocca, expected to visit Islamabad on Wednesday, told Indian business leaders that South Asia "is a key front in the global war on terrorism," although she did not touch on India's relations with Pakistan.

"Dismantling the structure of extremism and terror must go hand in hand with addressing and eliminating its root causes," she said.

Rocca noted that Indian paratroopers and American special operations forces are currently participating in their largest-ever joint army and air exercise since India's independence. Some 200 special forces troops from the U.S. Pacific Command in Honolulu began the exercises Saturday near Agra, the site of the Taj Mahal, the U.S. Embassy said.

Hundreds of thousands of Indian and Pakistani forces have faced each other across their long border since suspected Islamic militants raided the Indian Parliament last December in an attack that left 14 people dead.

India blamed Pakistan for the attack and said it would not withdraw forces from the border or consider talks until President Gen. Pervez Musharraf's government ended all cross-border attacks by Islamic militants based in Pakistan.

Pakistan denied responsibility for the Parliament attack. But under pressure from the United States, which announced an international war on terror after the Sept. 11 attacks, Musharraf renounced terrorism and vowed to crack down on Islamic militants in his country.

In an annual report Monday, India's Defense Ministry asserted that there has been no letup in the infiltration by Pakistan-based militants.

The report said Pakistan is the primary source for weapons for Kashmiri militants and that the Pakistani government "continuing with its policy of sponsoring terrorism in other parts of India" despite Musharraf's pledge.

In Washington, Defense Department's policy chief Douglas Feith told reporters Monday that there was a "very large" risk of war between India and Pakistan. He added that the United states is "focused on defusing those tensions."

Amid mounting tension, Indian Defense Minister George Fernandes said that even if severely provoked, India has no plans to attack Pakistan at any time before elections are held in Jammu-Kashmir, possibly in September.

"We do not want the elections to be disrupted at any cost," The New York Times quoted Fernandes as saying in its Tuesday edition. He is the only senior Indian official to issue a public assurance that military action is not imminent.

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