Vajpayee, Blair tango, but leave Kashmir out of step
12 November 2001
The Indian Express
London: British Prime Minister Tony Blair praised his Indian counterpart''s support for the ''war on terror'' on Monday but danced around the thorny problem of Kashmir. Blair, who met Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf last week, promised to visit the sub-continent early next year. The enlisting of Pakistan as a key partner in the Afghan campaign has irked India. The two nuclear rivals have been at odds over disputed Kashmir for years. Both nations are under pressure to contain tension over Kashmir while the war against Afghanistan''s ruling Taliban rages but Indian premier Atal Behari Vajpayee last week ruled out talks with Pakistan for now. ''People are very well aware of the fact that acts of carnage involving innocent civilians are wrong wherever they happen in the world,'' Blair told reporters after talks with Vajpayee in his Downing Street home. ''India has a very strong- and firmly-held view about the situation in Kashmir,'' Blair said. ''All we wish to see is the tensions in the area reduced.'' The United States-led coalition has vowed to tackle terrorism and its sponsors wherever it is found. Pakistan sees Islamic militants in Kashmir as freedom fighters, while India accuses Islamabad of financing and arming them in the nearly 12-year-old turmoil in Kashmir. Diplomats fear the schism could threaten the international coalition, carefully constructed after the September 11 attacks on the United States. Vajpayee also skirted the Kashmir issue, saying only that ''terrorism should not be any encouraged for any purpose''. But he firmly endorsed the wider goals of the international coalition, saying Osama bin Laden''s al-Qaeda network was merely a first target which would have to be followed by ''all sponsors who finance, equip, train and harbour terrorists''. Having visited New Delhi for just a few hours on a flying trip last month, Blair promised a more substantial visit. ''That was not a substitute for a proper time to come and visit India,'' he said. ''We are making arrangements for that to happen very early in the new year.'' Vajpayee called for intensive efforts to set up a successor administration to the Taliban in Afghanistan. ''A political vacuum can only worsen matters in that country. We should work quickly together with other interested parties on arrangements for a post-Taliban administration,'' he said. Pakistan, which helped propel the Taliban to power, wants the inclusion of ''moderate'' Taliban figures in any new government. India wants none of its leaders involved.