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Tuesday, 14 May, 2002, 15:52 GMT 16:52 UK
US balancing act over Kashmir
Indian soldiers in Kashmir
India is expected to respond to the latest violence
test hello test
By Owen Bennett Jones
BBC regional analyst

The visit of US Assistant Secretary of State, Christina Rocca, to India and Pakistan is an attempt to calm the growing frustrations felt by policy makers in South Asia's two nuclear neighbours.

Both India and Pakistan had hoped that, after the 11 September, there would be significant changes in the disputed territory of Kashmir.

While Delhi wanted a reduction in the intensity of the long-running insurgency against its security forces, Pakistan hoped the US would reward Pakistani leader General Pervez Musharraf by persuading Delhi to engage in a serious dialogue about Kashmir.

In the event, neither of those things has happened.

Delhi losing patience

India is now losing patience with the continued attacks on its troops in Kashmir.

US Assistant Secretary of State, Christina Rocca
Balancing act: Rocca will try to deal with competing Indian and Pakistani demands
In the latest incident, at least 30 people were killed when militants opened fire on an Indian army base six miles south of the state's winter capital, Jammu.

In January this year, under intense US pressure, President Musharraf banned two of the main Pakistan-based militant groups active in Kashmir.

Shortly afterwards, there were credible reports that the Pakistan army had ordered militant training camps in Pakistani-held Kashmir to suspend their activities.

Although this fell short of an outright ban, many believed Musharraf had taken a first step towards reducing the levels of violence in Kashmir.

Hawks feel justified

Hardliners in Islamabad are now arguing that, since India has not responded to that move by engaging in a dialogue about Kashmir, the insurgency should be revived before it dies out.

Such arguments play into the hands of Indian hawks who have always remained sceptical about Pakistan's long term intentions.

Pakistani leader Pervez Musharraf
Musharraf's inaction along the border with Afghanistan has frustrated the US
Ever since January, they have argued that the acid test of the General's policy would come in the spring when the snows had melted, making it easier for militants to slip across the line of control in Kashmir.

The latest attack will lead many in Delhi to conclude that their distrust of Mr Musharraf was entirely justified.

And some will argue that it is not too late to respond to the attack on the Indian parliament last December by launching strikes across the line of control to destroy the militants' training camps.

Since many of the camps have few facilities, it is far from clear what such offensives would achieve.

Furthermore, any attack across the line of control would almost certainly provoke a Pakistani response.

US frustrations

The increasing tensions follow General Musharraf's decision to align Pakistan with the United States after 11 September.

His move thwarted Delhi, which hoped Pakistan would be lumped together with Afghanistan as a source of international terrorism.

The heightened rhetoric emanating from Delhi is, in part, an expression of its exasperation that Pakistan's military regime is now being courted by the main western powers.

But the US also has its frustrations. It is irked by Pakistan's reluctance to deploy significant numbers of troops to seek out al-Qaeda operatives believed to be hiding in the lawless tribal areas that lie on the Pakistan-Afghan border.

Like many US diplomats before her, Christina Rocca will be engaged in a delicate balancing act, trying to advance US interests while simultaneously satisfying India and Pakistan's incompatible demands.

See also:

14 May 02 | South Asia
US urges calm over Kashmir attack
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