Bush Sending Rumsfeld to Meet Leaders in India, Pakistan
By Sgt. 1st Class Kathleen T. Rhem, USA
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, May. 30, 2002 President Bush announced today that he plans to send Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to India and Pakistan "early next week."
Tensions have been growing in the disputed Kashmir region between the two countries as both nuclear powers have amassed hundreds of thousands of troops along the border.
The president told reporters in the White House Cabinet Room that the United States is "part of an international coalition applying pressure to both parties, particularly (Pakistani) President (Pervez) Musharraf."
Bush explained that Musharraf had pledged to stop sending incursions into the Indian-controlled part of the disputed territory, but he has yet to do so. "We and others are making it clear to him that he must live up to his word," Bush said.
Speaking a short time later at the Pentagon, Rumsfeld declined to elaborate on his intentions during the upcoming trip. "I think I'd probably prefer to visit with the people in Pakistan and India (in person) rather than do it through the press," he told reporters.
He did, however, recognize the increased tension in the region. "The two countries are clearly in a situation where they are not talking directly to each other, and they have substantial disagreements particularly with respect to the Kashmir area," Rumsfeld said.
He said no decision has been made to evacuate U.S. troops stationed in Pakistan supporting the war on terrorism or on a training mission in India. The U.S. State Department has not requested military assistance to evacuate civilians from either country, he noted.
Press reports have put the number of U.S. civilians in the two countries at about 64,000. Rumsfeld said that number is low, but didn't give another estimate.
Marine Gen. Peter Pace, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said U.S. military officials have been meeting with representatives of the U.S. embassies in both countries to review existing contingency plans.
Rumsfeld refused to characterize armed conflict between India and Pakistan as inevitable. "One can't know about inevitability in things like this," he said. "Things have a way of starting and then proceeding in unpredictable ways in life, and certainly wars can escalate in unpredictable ways."
Rumsfeld and Bush both said the deteriorating situation would not halt U.S.-led efforts against global terrorism. He disputed civilian media reports that Pakistan has or will soon withdraw its forces from hunting al Qaeda and Taliban members along the country's Afghan border.
"The number of Pakistani battalions located along that Afghan border has not changed, and we hope it will not change," he said. However, he noted, should Pakistan move its forces, U.S. troops could step up efforts from within Afghanistan.
Bush had a more direct message for al Qaeda members: "They shouldn't think they're going to gain any advantage as a result of any conflict or talk of conflict between India and Pakistan, because we're still going to hunt 'em down."