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Thursday, 3 January, 2002, 15:26 GMT
Blair brings peace message
Indian policeman being taken to hospital after grenade attack in Kashmir
Mr Blair's visit comes at a time of soaring tension
UK Prime Minister Tony Blair has urged calm between India and Pakistan at the start of a visit to the region.


It is extremely important, given the military capability of both powers, that we do everything we can to calm the situation

Tony Blair
Tensions have soared between the two nuclear powers since a gun attack on the Indian parliament last month, which India blamed on Islamic militants it says have been supported by Pakistan.

India and Pakistan are still massing their armies each side of the border amid continuing reports of exchanges between them.

British officials have played down any suggestion that Mr Blair might play a peace-making role in the current confrontation, saying his visit was planned some time ago and he is not coming with any new initiatives.

Click here for a map of the border area

But Mr Blair, who arrived in Bangladesh on Thursday, said: "It is extremely important, given the military capability of both powers, that we do everything we can to calm the situation.

Pakistani demonstrators burn effigy of Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee
Pakistani demonstrators set fire to an effigy of Indian leader
"It is obviously potentially very serious in its consequences for the stability of the region and of the wider world."

He spoke after Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee said war with Pakistan was not imminent and he would do all he could to avoid it.

The Indian prime minister - now in Nepal's capital Kathmandu for a regional summit - said: "Efforts are being made to avoid war through diplomatic channels.

"If that succeeds, there will be no need to opt for other alternatives."

Pakistan under pressure

However, Indian Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh has said the meeting of the South Asian Association for Regional Co-operation (SAARC) is not the place to discuss India-Pakistan relations.

And he said no request for a meeting on the sidelines of the conference had been made by his Pakistani counterpart, Abdul Sattar.

Anti-war protesters in Pakistani city of Lahore
Pro-peace Pakistanis have also demonstrated
"It has not been the convention of SAARC to hold bilateral affairs," he said.

Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf is on his way to China - an ally for decades - for talks before the summit over the weekend.

India has threatened military action if Pakistan fails to crack down on militant groups operating from its territory.

Pakistan, however, denied involvement and said it would continue to provide moral support to Kashmiri separatists.

But General Musharraf is under intense international pressure to rein in the militants and is reported to have arrested about 100 followers of two groups India accuses of involvement in the Delhi attack.

He is also said to have acted on Wednesday to cut off Pakistani government support for several militant groups in Kashmir.



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 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Bridget Kendall
"On the frontline all the talk is of war"
The BBC's Jill McGivering
"The two countries seem on the brink of war"
The BBC's Louise Bevan
"Blair warned the hostility had the potential to escalate out of hand"
Pakistani High Commissioner Abdel Kader Jaffer
"The Indian side seems to be on a war path"
See also:

03 Jan 02 | South Asia
Thousands flee rivals' war moves
03 Jan 02 | South Asia
Musharraf seeks China's backing
03 Jan 02 | UK Politics
Blair arrives in Bangladesh
03 Jan 02 | South Asia
Security increased at Taj Mahal
03 Jan 02 | UK Politics
Analysis: Blair's delicate task
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