US APPLIES BLANKET-TERROR BALM 

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By FROM PRANAY SHARMA
  • Published 9.02.00
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New Delhi, Feb. 9 :     In a move aimed at softening the Indian public mood while keeping Pakistan on tenterhooks for its role in the Jammu and Kashmir strikes, the US today dubbed terrorist activities, irrespective of their purpose, as "criminal and unjustifiable". In another sop to Delhi, the Clinton administration agreed to intensify its joint effort with the Vajpayee government to bring the "perpetrators" of the hijacking of IC 814 to book. "The two sides unequivocally condemned all acts, methods, and practices of terrorism as criminal and unjustifiable, whatever the considerations of a political, philosophical, ideological, racial, ethnic, religious or any other nature that may be invoked to justify them," the joint statement, issued by India and the US after their two-day meeting on counter-terrorism in Washington, said. Yesterday, US secretary of state Madeleine Albright had asserted that Kashmir and non-proliferation, issues of "serious concern" to America, would come up for discussion during President Bill Clinton's visit to India. She also said that the US would continue its efforts "to ease tensions in South Asia" as the Kashmir issue had turned the region into a "tinderbox". In this context, the joint statement is aimed at assuring India that its concerns over cross-border terrorism are being taken seriously by Washington. Though Pakistan has consistently denied its role, it has justified terrorist activities in the strife-torn valley as the "Kashmiri people's struggle for independence from Indian rule". If Washington seriously pursues the spirit of the joint statement, it can thus put Islamabad in a corner for any encouragement to Kashmiri militant groups. The US has identified some benchmarks to Pakistan military ruler Pervez Musharraf. Taking steps against terrorist groups operating from Pakistan is one of them. And progress on the issue may lead to a visit by Clinton. The announcement is, therefore, a signal to Islamabad to refrain from encouraging anti-Indian activities from its soil. The outcome of the meeting and the contents of the joint-statement try to take care of two aspects: laying the groundwork for including Pakistan in Clinton's South Asia itinerary. And also to soften domestic mood in India for that purpose. So far, Washington has said Clinton will visit India and Bangladesh in March. Though nothing has been said about a trip to Pakistan, there is speculation that he may land up there, either for a technical halt or a brief stop-over. Though India officially maintains that it has no comments to make on the countries the US President wishes to visit, certain sections have started asking if anything would be achieved in getting Clinton here if he also insists on visiting Pakistan. According to them, it will be interpreted as Washington's attempt to strike a balance between the two South Asian neighbours. Under the circumstances, the US administration appears to have made the right noises on terrorism. Clinton's visit to Pakistan can now be seen as an attempt to ensure that terrorist groups, operating from Pakistani soil against Indian troops in Jammu and Kashmir, are not encouraged by Islamabad's military regime. To South Block officials, the joint statement has come as an endorsement of India's position on Pakistani-sponsored terrorism in Kashmir and elsewhere. That the relevant paragraph condemning terrorism is identical to the Indian draft on a Comprehensive Convention on terrorism - now before the General Assembly - is likely to please the Indian leadership.