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Thursday, 20 June, 2002, 16:37 GMT 17:37 UK
Indian troops 'to stay on border'
Indian soldiers
Tension has eased slightly since last month
India says its troops will remain along the border with Pakistan as long as necessary - despite a marked drop in incursions by militants fighting Indian rule in Kashmir.


As long as necessary, troops will remain on the border

Indian Defence Minister George Fernandes
Defence Minister George Fernandes, on a visit to the disputed territory, told journalists that infiltration across the border "had almost ended".

But "past experience tells us we will have to wait" before pulling back troops, he said.

India accuses Pakistan of not doing enough to halt the incursion of militants - despite pledges by President Musharraf to do so.

The two countries came to the brink of war after more than 30 people were killed last month in an attack on an Indian army camp in Kashmir.

Tensions have subsided following high-level intervention by the US and other countries - but the two countries still have a million men massed on both sides of the border.

Militant violence

Mr Fernandes told journalists in Srinagar, the summer capital of Indian-administered Kashmir, that militant violence had continued despite the halt to infiltration.

George Fernandes
George Fernandes: Militant violence continuing
"The ground situation has not changed as far as the activities of the militants inside Kashmir are concerned," he said.

He also reiterated the Indian view that elements from al-Qaeda and the Taleban had moved into Pakistani-controlled Kashmir.

"These are not just reports, it is a fact," he said.

During a recent visit to Delhi, US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said there were indications that al-Qaeda was operating in Kashmir, although he later downplayed the remarks.

In a separate development, Pakistan's Religious Affairs Minister Mahmood Ghazi has described the armed militancy in Kashmir as a "jihad" or holy war.

Mr Ghazi told journalists in Islamabad that Islamic groups promoting sectarian conflict within Pakistan were not following the concept of jihad.

However, since there was no Islamic government in Indian-administered Kashmir, militant groups there were entitled to call their campaign a jihad.

Pakistan visit

The Indian Government has indicated that it might be softening its position on allowing separatist leaders from Indian Kashmir to visit Pakistani-controlled Kashmir.

George Fernandes said a request to that effect by the main separatist alliance, the All Party Hurriyat Conference (APHC), would be "considered".

An earlier attempt by separatist leaders to visit Pakistani-based militant groups to persuade them to declare a ceasefire was blocked by Delhi.

It apparently objected to the presence in the proposed delegation of hardline figures such as Syed Ali Shah Geelani.

Mr Geelani is now in jail on charges of receiving money from Pakistan to fund militant activities.


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