Defense Secretary Sees 'Hopeful Signs' Prior to India, Pakistan Visit
By Sgt. 1st Class Kathleen T. Rhem, USA
American Forces Press Service
NEW DELHI, India, Jun. 11, 2002 Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said this morning he sees "hopeful signs" that tensions are easing in the disputed Kashmir region between India and Pakistan.
At a press conference in the Emiri Diwan, the business offices of the emir of Qatar, Rumsfeld said the leaders of Pakistan and India had been speaking to President Bush, Secretary of State Colin Powell and British Prime Minister Tony Blair. Rumsfeld indicated such engagements with other world leaders are encouraging.
The secretary stopped briefly in the small Gulf nation of Qatar to visit national and defense leaders and to visit U.S. troops at a small air base before flying to New Delhi.
World attention has been focused on India and neighboring Pakistan in recent weeks as tensions escalated around the "Line of Control," the line separating the two nuclear rivals in Kashmir.
Rumsfeld explained in the press conference that maintaining such tension is enormously costly to the nations involved. "It's very expensive and very stressful to maintain forces on high alert," he said. "People are reluctant to travel to each of those countries, so from an economic standpoint it's harmful."
Later, on his plane en route to New Delhi, Rumsfeld further explained how such tensions hurt a region's economy. "The people of those two countries need a healthy, stable environment for them to achieve incremental improvements in their economic circumstance," he told reporters. "Their people are intelligent; they've got a high level of education; they're industrious.
"There's no reason in the world why those two countries on that important subcontinent cannot get on a track going forward that would be enormously beneficial to them," he said.
Even though the countries' leaders are making positive statements, what really matters is what's happening around the Line of Control, Rumsfeld said in Qatar.
"I've not been on the ground in the LOC in Kashmir," he said. "It is a difficult part of the world. I don't know anyone who has perfect visibility into what is taking place there." The secretary said the region is in high altitude and three-quarters of it is rugged, mountainous terrain.
He explained that regardless of positive leanings by the leaders, several issues surrounding Kashmir concern him in regards to peace in the region.
Much of the contention between India and Pakistan has surrounded Pakistani militants making armed raids over the Line of Control. Rumsfeld said Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf has been making strides in constraining these militants.
"There is a concern that there are very likely already militants in there, and that someone could engage in an act that could create an incident, that someone could say, 'Well, those people just came along across the LOC.' But they might very well have already been there," he said.
Rumsfeld praised Musharraf's efforts to stop the incursions. "From everything I have read and seen, public and private, ... he has made a very firm commitment to do everything he can do to prevent infiltration across the Line of Control," Rumsfeld said. The secretary is scheduled to meet Musharraf in Islamabad after departing New Delhi.
Rumsfeld also said intelligence indicates that al Qaeda or Taliban operatives might be holed up in Kashmir with plans to stir up tensions between India and Pakistan.
"We know al Qaeda and Taliban left Afghanistan and transited into Iran (and) into Pakistan," Rumsfeld said. "It's conceivable that some of them might decide it would be in their interest to create an incident, not for the benefit of Kashmir, but to create a conflict between India and Pakistan with the hope that they could pick up the pieces to their advantage."
Continued talks between India and Pakistan are key to avoiding conflict over such external influences, Rumsfeld said.
"Each is going to have to be aware that it's not going to be a perfect process. That is to say, things can start happening for reasons other than either of those two parties," he said. "To the extent that we are all aware of that and they are, then I think such an incident would be less likely to cause a miscalculation."