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UN chief treads carefully in Pakistan

THE United Nations Secretary- General, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, flew to Islamabad yesterday to revive UN efforts in untangling three South Asian crises: the Afghan civil war, the simmering dispute between India and Pakistan over Kashmir, and the region's dangerous nuclear weapons race.

But Mr Boutros-Ghali is unlikely to make any headway. He will be briefed on the UN's latest Afghan peace initiative between Kabul and rebels led by the renegade prime minister, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. This initiative ended in failure. The Afghan President, Burhanuddin Rabbani, refused to meet former Communist rebels who are still shelling the capital. The UN has no leverage over the warring Afghan factions. The last Communist leader, Najibullah, has been trapped since 1992 inside the UN compound in Kabul and the UN lacks the clout to get him out.

Mr Boutros-Ghali will be under pressure from Pakistan to attend a meeting in Islamabad of foreign ministers from Islamic countries, where he must tread most carefully. Pakistan is trying to rally support among Muslim countries - and in the forthcoming UN general assembly - for a condemnation of the human rights abuses committed by Indian security forces against Kashmiri Muslims. More than 7,000 Kashmiris have been killed in the five-year uprising led by Muslim insurgents against India.

If Mr Boutros-Ghali attends the ministerial summit, his reception in New Delhi will be frosty. The Pakistanis want a stronger UN mediation over the Kashmir dispute, but India wants to settle it in direct talks with Pakistan. 'I am ready to offer my goodwill capacity but this has to be done in a very quiet way, and this has to be based on the agreement between two parties,' he said recently. A UN team monitors the sporadic ceasefire violations along the section of the border between India and Pakistan that crosses through the disputed territory of Kashmir.

After Islamabad, Mr Boutros- Ghali will fly on to India, China and Japan. He will probably be given what the Indians claim is evidence that Pakistan sponsors terrorism. Over the last few weeks, the Indian home ministry has been leaking evidence allegedly taken from captured underworld gangs that Pakistan helped to organise a bombing campaign that killed more than 250 people in Bombay in 1993.

The most intractible dispute is over India and Pakistan's nuclear arms build-up. Mr Boutros-Ghali is expected to renew efforts made by Britain and the US for both countries to sign the Nuclear Non- Proliferation Treaty. But the recent arrest in Germany of a Pakistani smuggling high-grade plutonium has stiffened Indian objections to the treaty. New Delhi doubts that international safeguards are stringent enough to keep watch on any country secretly making nuclear weapons.