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Vajpayee tour to boost India's anti-terror role

NEW DELHI, India -- Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee has embarked on a 10-day tour of Russia, the United States and Britain designed to reassert India's role in the coalition against terrorism.

Vajpayee is expected to urge Washington and its allies not to allow Pakistan, the new U.S. ally in the frontline war against the Taliban, to dictate the makeup of any new government in Afghanistan.

India has long maintained that its rival Pakistan supports terrorism in the state of Kashmir, a source of deep dispute among the nuclear regional neighbors.

Before departing Vajpayee said he would place particular emphasis on international terrorism and "the urgent need to address the challenges of post-conflict Afghanistan."

Vajpayee will first hold talks in Moscow with President Vladimir Putin in Russia, India's ally during the Cold War era. Asia
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He will then head to Washington for his first meeting with President George W. Bush on November 9 before attending the U.N. General Assembly session in New York.

Vajpayee said he hoped to discuss with Bush the consolidation of the many positive trends in bilateral ties over recent years.

He said that although India had differences with the United States during the Cold War, the climate was now "clear and conducive." "We are together in fighting global terrorism," he said.

On his way back, Vajpayee will stop in London on November 12 and 13 to meet Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Analysts say that Vajpayee is expected to come under heavy pressure to ensure that escalating tensions with Pakistan over Kashmir do not erupt into a conflict that may jeopardize the military campaign to oust the Taliban regime in Afghanistan.

The nuclear foes have twice gone to war over Kashmir.

Last month, Bush appealed to both countries to "stand down" while the war against the Taliban was under way.

Tough words

But Vajpayee and Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf have traded tough words of late, each vowing to repulse any military action by the other.

Vajpayee has said he is unlikely to meet Musharraf when the two attend the U.N. session in New York.

The Indian prime minister has insisted that Pakistan first stop supporting rebels in Muslim-majority Kashmir before the two neighbors resume a dialogue which ended in deadlock at a summit in July. Pakistan says it gives only moral, not military, backing to the separatist revolt in Muslim-majority Kashmir where at least 30,000 people have died since the rebellion erupted in 1989.

Pakistan helped propel the Taliban to power and is keen not to lose its influence over its neighbor.

India and Russia are pushing for a broad-based coalition government that reflects Afghanistan's multi-ethnic population.


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