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It is action that matters, Jack Straw tells Pakistan

The British Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, calling on the Prime Minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee, prior to their meeting in New Delhi on Wednesday. -- Photo: V. Sudershan

The British Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, calling on the Prime Minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee, prior to their meeting in New Delhi on Wednesday. -- Photo: V. Sudershan  

NEW DELHI MAY 29. In evaluating the situation in the subcontinent, India and Britain today defined the first principles that could help put in place a durable mechanism for defusing military tensions between New Delhi and Islamabad in the future.

Government sources said the talks between the visiting British Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, and his Indian interlocutors saw both sides determining common premises on which an effort to bring peace in the subcontinent could be mounted. Mr. Straw called on the Prime Minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee, in the evening and held extensive discussions with the External Affairs Minister, Jaswant Singh, besides meeting the Union Home Minister, L. K. Advani, the Defence Minister, George Fernandes, and the National Security Adviser, Brajesh Mishra.

Mr. Singh and Mr. Straw shared near-identical views on the need for action by Pakistan to counter cross-border terrorism. Both sides agreed that Pakistan had to go beyond words and demonstrate on the ground its seriousness in restraining cross-border terrorism.

" The test (of statements) is by action not words. There has to be measurement on the ground. The international community looks to Musharraf for implementation of promises made by him,'' Mr. Straw said in response to a question at a joint press conference with Mr. Singh this afternoon. While Gen. Musharraf was serious about controlling terrorism, "the test of all this is action not words.''

On more than one occasion, Mr. Straw said that contrary to Pakistan's assertions, terrorism could not be disguised as "freedom fighting.'' ``The definition of terrorism has been laid down in international law and the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1373, which includes cross-border terrorism and terrorism labelled as freedom fight or freedom fighter-terrorism,'' he said.

Mr. Straw rejected Pakistan's call for international monitors to check infiltration along the Line of Control, and stressed that the focus for resolution of Indo-Pak. differences lay in bilateralism.

Sources pointed out that the British "tough line'' might be a precursor to the possibility of economic measures against Pakistan, in case Islamabad does not address the question of cross-border terrorism urgently. But, having broken common ground with India, Britain hinted at the possibility of incremental reciprocation from New Delhi, in case Pakistan initiated a phased action to curb cross-border terrorism. The British "suggestion'' amounted to locking India and Pakistan in a mechanism that could result in a de-escalatory, step-by-step reciprocation of confidence-building measures.

The British proposal, which is likely to have the backing of the Americans, is expected to generate a serious internal debate in the Government circles. Two lines of action can emerge, analysts say. India, for instance, can either wait for a time-consuming proof of Pakistan ``permanently and irreversibly'' ending terrorism before responding positively, or engage itself in a new quid pro quo mechanism of confidence-building with Islamabad.

Sources pointed out that the British stance as spelt out today is a response to contradictory pressures felt by London. Concerned about the global reach of terrorism, of which it can become a target, Britain, in its own self-interest, is not averse to India's coercive diplomacy if it can encourage Pakistan to eliminate sanctuaries of terrorism from its soil. That, in part, explains its unreserved backing of India on the counter-terrorism front.

However, Britain would not like it if the Indian disposition leads to a war as it could derail the fight against terrorism in Afghanistan by encouraging Pakistan to push its forces away from the Afghan to the Indian border. In suggesting a mechanism which also has "something'' for Gen. Musharraf, Britain is also keeping in mind that the Pakistani leader, for his own political survival, would want to be seen tied in a relatively equal, give-and-take equation with India.

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