Blair heads for India, supportive on Kashmir terror
BRITISH Prime Minister Tony Blair will arrive here late tonight on the latest leg of a global dash to consolidate support for the war on terrorism.
Indian government officials said Blair was expected to land in New Delhi in the evening — after a brief stopover in Pakistan — and stay for less than 24 hours, long enough for talks with Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee on Saturday morning.
“Recent developments following the terrorist attacks in the United States of America on September 11, 2001, international cooperation to combat terrorism and the developments in the region are expected to figure prominently in this discussion,” the Indian Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
India has made no effort to conceal its frustration with the U.S. focus on Afghanistan’s ruling Taliban and its “guest”, militant Osama bin Laden at the possible expense of a wider assault on terrorism.
It has sought to draw international attention to the 12-year-old insurgency against its rule in Muslim-majority Kashmir, which it says is fomented by “cross-border terrorism” from Pakistan.
It is also anxious that Western nations could overlook what it says is Pakistan’s sponsorship of terrorism in the bitterly disputed Himalayan territory at a time when Islamabad is lending its support to the drive against bin Laden.
But Blair rallied behind New Delhi on Thursday before he left for Moscow, referring to this week’s suicide attack by militants in Indian Kashmir as evidence of the need for a concerted approach to terrorism.
Thirty-eight people were killed and more than 60 were wounded in Monday’s blast and shootout at the legislative assembly in Srinagar, summer capital of India’s Jammu and Kashmir state.
British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw went a step further, linking the Pakistan-based group which claimed — then denied — that it was responsible for the attack to bin Laden.
“Let us not forget that just this week, terrorism has continued to take an ugly toll of innocent human life, in India,” Straw told parliament. “The terrorist organisation Jaish-e-Mohammad...has claimed responsibility for this outrage. Its leader is linked to Osama bin Laden.”
Such comments will be music to ears in New Delhi whose foreign minister won only guarded support during a visit to Washington this week.
US Secretary of State Colin Powell told reporters on Tuesday that the attack in Srinagar “clearly was an act of terrorism” and said: “we are going after terrorism in a comprehensive way...as it affects nations around the world, to include the kind of terrorism that affects India”.
But he chose not to answer questions on whether Pakistan should be blamed, whether Washington should get tough on Pakistan and whether militant training camps in Pakistan should be closed.
It was left to Indian External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh, who was alongside Powell, to answer the questions.
“If the leadership of Pakistan and if Pakistan were to abandon the path of violence and of terrorism and join the rest of the international community in its fight against this evil, it would be a development that India would welcome,” he said.
Of all the militant groups active in Indian Kashmir, only one — Harkat-ul-Mujahideen — was included in a list of 27 people and organisations whose assets were ordered frozen by the United States for alleged links with bin Laden.
And even Harkat-ul-Mujahideen has disappeared from the forefront in Kashmir now, leaving Jaish-e-Mohammad and two other Pakistan-based outfits to do most of the running.
Jaish-e-Mohammad was launched by Pakistani cleric Maulana Masood Azhar in Karachi after he was released from jail by India in exchange for the lives of passengers on an Indian airliner which was hijacked to Afghanistan in December 1999.