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Monday, 10 June, 2002, 17:21 GMT 18:21 UK
Rumsfeld's tightrope tour
Donald Rumsfeld faces a difficult balancing act

All the way along, the Defence Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, has been tight-lipped about his mission to India and Pakistan, a reflection of how fragile Washington believes the situation between the two nuclear-armed neighbours has been.

Before he left Washington, Mr Rumsfeld said the message he would be delivering to both sides would depend in part on how the situation developed as he headed there via Europe and the Middle East.

US peace envoy Richard Armitage
Richard Armitage has just returned from the region
And it would depend on the debriefing he got from the US Deputy Secretary of State, Richard Armitage, whose mission preceded that of the Defence Secretary.

The two met in Estonia on Saturday.

It had originally been thought that Mr Rumsfeld might deliver classified estimates of the impact of all-out nuclear war between India and Pakistan in the hope of deterring a further flare-up.

Border troops

A recently updated Defence Intelligence Agency report suggested that, in a worst-case scenario, up to 12 million people would be killed initially in a nuclear exchange, with up to 6m injured.

And that is before the impact of radioactive fallout, famine, and disease.

President Bush shakes hands with Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf
US-Pakistan relations have been close since Sept 11
But, with tensions apparently easing, the focus may shift.

US officials have tried to scotch rumours that Mr Rumsfeld will offer US troops to monitor the line of control.

But, with the issue of verifying moves on both sides now coming to prominence, there may be discussion of what information the United States might offer on that front, including "technical means" - in other words, satellite surveillance.

Critical to the US role in the overall international diplomatic push to relieve tensions is, first, its position as the world's only superpower.

Beyond that, though, are Washington's developing security relationships with both countries.

Key ally

Pakistan has, of course, become a key ally in the "war on terrorism".

The Pentagon will not reveal official figures, but it is thought that the United States has about 1,000 military personnel based in Pakistan.

But US-India relations have also developed rapidly in recent times.

Tensions along the border are reportedly easing
After decades of estrangement, when India championed nonalignment and had close military ties with the Soviet Union, contacts between the United States and India began to develop in the 1990s.

These, and those between the United States and Pakistan, were stalled after both tested nuclear devices in 1998.

US-India relations were also overshadowed by ties with Pakistan in the immediate aftermath of the 11 September attacks. But since then, they have accelerated.

There were US special operations forces training in India with the Indian army as the latest tensions developed. And senior Indian defence officials were holding talks at the Pentagon as events unfolded.

Balancing act

Beyond that, there is the general expectation that, with the "war on terrorism", the United States is likely to be much more intricately involved in South Asia in the future than it has been up to now.

And that could well include a continuing military presence, at least in the near term.

These developing contacts are clearly valued by both Pakistan and India.

It gives Mr Rumsfeld a considerable degree of leverage.

But it also makes this crisis a difficult balancing act for the United States.

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See also:

07 Jun 02 | South Asia
03 Jun 02 | South Asia
10 Jun 02 | UK Politics
10 Jun 02 | South Asia
10 Jun 02 | South Asia
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