Blair calls on Pakistan to reject support for terrorism

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The Independent Online

Tony Blair will call today for a "complete rejection" of support for terrorism by Pakistan as he assumes the role of go-between in the simmering military stand-off over Kashmir.

After talks in India with his counterpart, Atal Behari Vajpayee, there was little sign of a diplomatic breakthrough in the dispute that has brought the neighbouring nations to the brink of war.

And claims by India's military that they had shot down an unmanned Pakistani spy plane in Indian airspace yesterday over the disputed Himalayan province of Kashmir can only raise tensions further. Pakistan denied the report. "An aerial vehicle of India crashed in the Jammu sector, and the military officials of India are indulging in baseless propaganda to hide this loss," its state-run news agency said.

In a meeting today with General Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan's leader, Mr Blair will relay the message that India requires tougher action against the militant groups that Pakistan blames for last month's suicide attack on the Delhi Parliament.

Downing Street was at pains to stress the Prime Minister was not carrying a blueprint for resolving the long-running feud over Kashmir or that he would be naming terrorist suspects that should be picked up.

But in a joint press conference with Mr Vajpayee, where the two men signed a joint declaration of closer co-operation between Britain and India, Mr Blair delivered an unequivocal denunciation of terrorism that pleased the Indians and will not be lost on Pakistan. "In the end this is an issue that has to be resolved by India and Pakistan.

"But the important thing is that however strong the case, however strong they are feeling, the case has to be resolved by any means other than terrorism. There cannot be any compromise on that," he said.

"We face and still face terrorism (in Britain). We're very familiar with that. I understand the anger in India when your Parliament is attacked, but what's important for India and Pakistan is that the political dialogue takes the place of terrorism and fanaticism."

He added that there needed to be a "complete rejection" of the types of terrorist attack such as that against the Delhi Parliament. And he seized on a promise by Mr Vajpayee to join talks with Islamabad if it took tougher action against terrorist suspects. Mr Blair said: "I understand there is a willingness to have a dialogue providing support for terrorism stops." The Indian Prime Minister told the press conference: "We've always been ready to discuss all issues with Pakistan, including Kashmir ... I believe in an action of views, I believe in negotiations to solve problems."

However, the lack of movement over Kashmir was underlined by Mr Vajpayee when he played down the significance of a second handshake with General Musharraf at the end of a south Asian conference in Nepal yesterday. He said: "We were waiting for transport. I said hello. That was all."

Mr Blair has been made acutely aware of Indian sensitivities during his tour. He was forced yesterday to clarify remarks in which he said Pakistan had a "strong position" over Kashmir, insisting that did not mean he was taking its side, merely pointing out the strength with which it put its case. He has also faced irritation in Indian government circles over suggestions he has flown to the region to calm the deepening dispute.

Downing Street is also aware of growing criticism at home that the Prime Minister is concentrating too much time and energy on the international stage. David Davis, the Tory party chairman, said yesterday: "Tony Blair must realise that his first obligation is to the British people and concentrate on the domestic agenda. With failing public services, a crumbling NHS, strikes on the railways and rising crime, the Prime Minister can ill afford the time for foreign travel when he's so badly needed to sort out the problems his Government has created at home."

As a result of the domestic criticism, Mr Blair has repeatedly insisted that Britain is not immune from turbulent events on the other side of the world.

But the mood music at a banquet thrown for Mr Blair by Mr Vajpayee yesterday evening suggested that this Indian leg of his trip has been a success. Fellow diners said both prime ministers were in good spirits.

A senior Indian journalist who was present said: "Mr Vajpayee likes Mr Blair, he liked him also in the past.He thinks he is smarter than President Bush, more mature and sophisticated and less overbearing than the Americans ... The mood was unusually good for a Vajpayee dinner."

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