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Concern over escalating tensions

By Barbara Starr
and Elise Labott

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Provoked by the December 13 attack on India's parliament, the escalating tensions between Pakistan and India are creating international concern.

However, the U.S. military assessment is that both sides may be "misreading" each other's moves as provocative. They also fear that an ongoing border build-up of forces could debilitate the campaign in Afghanistan.

Although India has said Pakistan's steps to crack down on militant groups were inadequate, a senior U.S. official said that the United States believes "it is being privately received better" than India's public comments indicate.

India moved a number of troops to a "blocking" position along the border, "in case of an invasion by Pakistan," a U.S. official noted.

But Pakistan read the move as India positioning troops to get ready for an invasion of Pakistan --- just one example of escalating tensions in the wake of the recent attack on India's parliament.

The United States' concern is that if Pakistan "feels too much pressure" from India's military moves, it may react by pulling its limited number of troops off the border with Afghanistan, where it has been trying to seal the border and catch escaping al Qaeda or Taliban members.

U.S. bases

U.S. officials are concerned India and Pakistan might be tempted to use nuclear weapons. CNN's David Ensor reports (December 26)

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Tensions between India and Pakistan have escalated since 14 people were killed in an attack on India's Parliament. CNN's Michael Holmes reports (December 26)

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Pakistan also could decide to re-position its troops now protecting U.S. forces using bases inside Pakistan.

"Our concern is the war against terrorism," the official said.

One State Department official said that the "message to India is that we are on your side regarding shutting down these terrorist groups and we will work you on that."

"They have the lead, but certainly getting into a greater conflict with Pakistan wouldn't solve the problem of these groups, and we think the Indians know this."

U.S. officials noted that it is difficult for the United States to pressure India not to respond to a terrorist attack at a time when the United States is doing just that.

"It's delicate," another State Department official said. "It's difficult to tell any other country not to fight terrorism right now."

But the official added that the message Powell delivered to India was "the preferred solution is to work through diplomatic channels."

For now, administration officials say, the United States will continue to keep in "very close touch" with the leaders and encourage them to take steps to lesson the tensions.

Annan urges diplomacy

Meanwhile, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan is urging the leaders of India and Pakistan to avoid actions and statements that could aggravate the situation.

According to a U.N. news release Wednesday, Annan sent letters to Vajpayee and Musharraf Tuesday night saying that "every effort had to be made to foster a calmer atmosphere so that differences -- no matter how great -- could be resolved through dialogue and diplomacy."

Annan also told the leaders that the world community has "great interest in improved and stable relations between their two countries," the news release said.




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