Plea to stop shooting, start talking
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (CNN) -- U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has concluded his peace mission to South Asia with a plea for India and Pakistan to stop shooting at each other and start talking.
Warning that tensions in the region could easily escalate again -- particularly ahead of elections in both countries -- Rumsfeld said the leaders of India and Pakistan "at some point" needed to start talking "about a lot of things".
"You can't have two countries living next to each other for very long, with a million people staring at each other with weapons, and not recognize that there are certain things that would be desirable," Rumsfeld said in Bahrain, en route back to the United States.
"One thing would be to have less shelling, another might be to have more talking."
There are still nearly one million troops massed on the borders between India and Pakistan and despite some conciliatory moves tensions remain high.
India has pulled back its warships from near Pakistan but the build-up of land-based troops is still considered a major threat by Islamabad.
"There has been no change whatsoever in the capability of Indian forces massed on our borders and the Line of Control, therefore there is no real reduction in the threat," Pakistan's Foreign Minister Abdul Sattar said Thursday.
Rumsfeld suggested one way to continue to ease tensions would be for both sides to agree that troops along the LoC, which separates Indian and Pakistani regions of Kashmir, would only fire in self-defense.
Such a policy would limit civilian casualties and "begin a process of easing some of the lingering hostilities."
Rumsfeld also downplayed the threat that nuclear weapons might be used in a conflict, saying the leaders of the two nations were "managing their affairs as people responsible for weapons of that power."
The U.S. envoy earlier backed down on statements that there was evidence of al Qaeda militants are operating in Kashmir.
"The facts are that I do not have evidence and the United States does not have evidence of al Qaeda in Kashmir," Rumsfeld told reporters Thursday after talks with Pakistan President Gen. Pervez Musharraf.
Rumsfeld said the United States had "a good deal of scraps of intelligence" from "people saying they believe al Qaeda are in Kashmir or in various locations."
"It tends to be speculative," Rumsfeld said. "It is not actionable. It is not verifiable."
"If there happened to be any actionable intelligence in this country, there isn't a doubt in my mind the Pakistani government would deal with them," he said.
Pakistan earlier rejected suggestions made in New Delhi by Rumsfeld and India that there could be al Qaeda terrorists operating in the disputed region of Kashmir. (Bin Laden behind Kashmir violence?)
"It's absolutely nonsense," government spokesman General Rashid Qureshi said.
"The Indian allegation aims to undermine the indigenous movement inside Indian-occupied Kashmir," he said. "There is no such information or evidence at all to support the allegation."
Rumsfeld said earlier the U.S. would not mediate any talks between the two sides, saying that as sovereign nations the responsibility rested with India and Pakistan.
According to sources traveling with the Defense Secretary, the United States is considering the use of American technology to help India and Pakistan monitor their Line of Control in Kashmir. (Full story)
Indian diplomatic sources have told CNN that the American and Indian delegations "have reached an agreement in principle for sharing and evaluating intelligence inputs in a more organized way" across the Line of Control.
The sources said there had been information sharing in the past, but it had not been completely organized.
India has blamed a series of militant attacks, including a dramatic raid on the Indian parliament in New Delhi last December, on Kashmiri separatist groups it says operate from Pakistani-controlled territory with backing from Islamabad.
Pakistan has rejected the charges, saying it only gives moral support to groups fighting what it calls a "liberation struggle" for the Kashmiri people.
The row has led to a dramatic increase in tensions between the two nuclear powers, between them deploying around a million troops along their shared border and the Line of Control. (Maps and military.)
Amid such a tense stand-off diplomats have expressed fears that another militant attack could spark a catastrophic war.
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