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Thursday, 13 June, 2002, 16:17 GMT 17:17 UK
Rumsfeld's Kashmir controversy
Kashmir guerrillas
Pakistan has blocked militants from crossing the border

US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has ended his visit to South Asia by downplaying his remarks about the presence of al-Qaeda operatives in Kashmir.

On Wednesday, speaking in Delhi, he said: "I have seen indications that there are in fact al-Qaeda operating in the area that we are talking about near the Line of Control."

Donald Rumsfeld
Rumsfeld: Unwilling to be drawn into mediating role
On Thursday, in Islamabad, he said: "The United States does not have evidence of al-Qaeda in Kashmir." He said the US has scraps of intelligence which were "speculative" and "not verifiable".

The claim that al-Qaeda was present in Kashmir caused considerable anxiety in Islamabad.

For years now Pakistan has given logistical support to Pakistani-based Kashmiri militants.

In recent weeks, under strong international pressure, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf has reversed that policy and blocked the militants from slipping into Indian-administered territory by moving across the Line of Control.

That decision is controversial in Pakistan where the Kashmir issue remains highly emotive.

Tensions

The military high command was concerned that a US statement about al-Qaeda being in Kashmir would enhance the international perception that the Kashmiri militants are terrorists.


In the final analysis countries sort out their own problems

Donald Rumsfeld, US defence secretary
The army feared it would come under even more pressure to confront Pakistani-based Kashmiri militants even more directly.

General Musharraf knows that if he were seen to abandon the Kashmir cause then he could face a domestic political backlash.

Mr Rumsfeld's change of line suggests that during their discussions, General Musharraf managed to persuade the Americans to back down on the claim.

The issue reflects tensions that have been apparent ever since 11 September.

'Terrorist operations'

When General Musharraf supported America's war against terrorism he tried to avoid a link being made between the Islamic militants active in Kashmir and those in Afghanistan.


We expect more from the United States

Abdul Sattar, Pakistani Foreign Minister
But its increasingly clear that he has failed to convince the Americans and the British that that distinction is valid.

Washington and London point out that many of the Kashmiri militants were trained in Afghanistan.

When America bombed training camps in Afghanistan after the Africa embassy bombings and again after the 11 September attacks, Kashmiri militants were among the victims.

The Americans and the British have also argued that some of the Kashmiri militant actions, like the attack on the Indian parliament last December, looked very like terrorist operations.

'No magic wand'

For his part, Pakistan's Foreign Minister Abdul Sattar said at a joint news conference with Mr Rumsfeld that he wanted India to open a dialogue on the Kashmir issue and he indicated that he wanted Washington to exert stronger pressure on Delhi to hold some talks.

"We expect more from the United States," he said.

But Mr Rumsfeld was unwilling to get drawn into a mediating role.

While, he said, the US was willing to help he added that "there is no magic wand" and that "in the final analysis countries sort out their own problems".

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12 Jun 02 | South Asia
12 Jun 02 | South Asia
10 Jun 02 | South Asia
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