Bush for decisive Pak. action against extremists

WASHINGTON, DEC. 30. In his first personal call to the leaders of India and Pakistan to defuse the crisis in South Asia, the U.S. President, Mr.George W. Bush, has called on the Pakistan President, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, to ``eliminate extremists who seek to harm India'', even while appreciating what has been done by him thus far.

``The President urged Gen. Musharraf to take additional, strong and decisive measures to eliminate extremists who seek to harm India, undermine Pakistan, provoke a war between India and Pakistan and destabilise the international coalition against terrorism,'' the White House spokesman, Mr. Scott McClellan said in Crawford, Texas.

In his call to Gen. Musharraf from his ranch in Texas, Mr.Bush is said to have appreciated Pakistan's support for the campaign against terrorism and also applauded Islamabad's efforts to rein in the ``extremists operating in and from Pakistan'' who harmed India. Mr.Bush also called for ``more dramatic steps'' against the terror groups.

In the course of his conversation with the Prime Minister, Mr.A. B. Vajpayee, Mr. Bush informed him that the U.S. was ``determined to cooperate with India in its fight against terrorism''. According to the White House, Mr. Bush reiterated his outrage over the attack on the Indian Parliament of December 13, ``noting that it was a strike against democracy''.

The Bush administration has once again called for restraint by the two countries. The timing and message of the President's call are seen in the context of a broader international effort to have India and Pakistan defuse tensions along the border.

In the last several days, apart from a number of international leaders telephoning leaders of India and Pakistan, senior officials of the Bush administration, especially the Secretary of State, Gen. Colin Powell, have been working the lines.

Mr. Bush also placed a call to the British Prime Minister, Mr. Tony Blair, who is due to visit India shortly. According to the White House Mr. Bush and Mr. Blair discussed ways in which the U.S. and Britain could cooperate to ease tensions in South Asia.

Apart from a genuine concern that the tension and rhetoric might get out of hand leading to catastrophic results, Washington is worried that the situation might escalate and have an impact on its ongoing operations in Afghanistan. The U.S. is also worried that several or all of the Pakistani battalions now patrolling the border with Afghanistan would be withdrawn and deployed on the Indian side if hostilities break out.

The concern of re-deployment of Pakistani troops and loss of airspace has been pointedly voiced by the Defence Secretary, Mr. Donald Rumsfeld. In fact, Pakistan has been making a point of reminding Washington of this prospect in part to have the Republican administration put more pressure on India to back off.

Media reports here have it that Pakistani troops have indeed started moving away from checkpoints along the Afghan border, but Pakistan's Foreign Minister, Mr. Abdul Sattar, has maintained that his Government has not yet pulled troops from the Afghanistan border, but added that it might have to do so.

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