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India-Pakistan Situation Is Bush Administration's 'Highest Priority'

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

SINGAPORE, May 31, 2002 – Preventing a war on the Indian subcontinent is the Bush administration's "highest priority," Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz said here today.

Wolfowitz spoke to reporters following an hour-long meeting with Indian Defense Minister George Fernandes. Wolfowitz is in Singapore to attend an Asia security conference. Singapore is 12 hours ahead of Eastern Daylight Time.

The deputy secretary said a war between India and Pakistan over Kashmir would be catastrophic. He said Fernandes described the problem as seen by India. Wolfowitz emphasized the United States shares India's concerns about infiltration and terrorism.

"We believe terrorism is unacceptable no matter what causes are said to justify it," he said. "But we also believe that a war would be somewhere between terrible and catastrophic and something that really must be avoided."

Earlier in the day, Wolfowitz said a war between India and Pakistan would do untold damage to those two nations and all the others in the region. Press reports indicate that 1 million men are under arms on the border between India and Pakistan. In addition to their conventional forces, both countries have nuclear weapons and the means to deliver them.

Wolfowitz said this is a particularly tragic time for such a confrontation because of the potential for a new era in U.S. relations with both countries. Pakistan has provided a great deal of help in the war against al Qaeda in Afghanistan and has cracked down on al Qaeda sympathizers inside Pakistan.

"We're also in a new era of U.S.-Indian relations marked in many ways, such as the U.S.-India Defense Planning Group," he said.

Fernandes is making plans to receive Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld in India on June 9, Wolfowitz noted. President Bush announced May 30 his decision to send Rumsfeld to the region. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage also is scheduled to go to the region June 6 and 7. Both men will work to defuse the tensions between the two nuclear powers.

Wolfowitz also met today with Indonesian Defense Minister Matori Abdul Djalil. He said they discussed U.S. interests in the development of an Indonesian military that can support Indonesia's transition to democracy.

"In our view, that requires two things," Wolfowitz said. "One is military reform, but the other is an effective military." He said Indonesia is not going to succeed as a democracy "unless the military is under effective civilian control and military abuse is curbed."

But the military also must be effective. "(Indonesia also) is not going to survive as a democracy if they don't have effective security forces that can deal with communal violence."

Through a translator, Matori agreed with the deputy secretary's summation and thanked the United States for its support. He said Indonesia wants to build a professional military that has good accountability and an understanding of the value of human rights.

Matori said Indonesia is working on these problems and would like to see military-to-military contacts renewed between the two countries. Wolfowitz agreed, saying such contacts between the United States and Indonesia would be positive and help Indonesian military personnel see how a military force operates in a democracy.


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