by Ranjit Devraj
(IPS) NEW DELHI --
of the Cold War returned to the sub-continent today as India deepened defense ties with Moscow, while Secretary of State Colin Powell held consultations in Islamabad on a post-Taliban regime in Afghanistan.
Visiting Russian Deputy Prime Minister Ilya Klebanov said Russia had always favored Afghanistan's Northern Alliance and opposed the Taliban regime, which is now the target of intense aerial bombardment by a U.S.-led military coalition supported by Islamabad.
"I need to say that India and Russia share absolutely similar views, especially on the situation in Afghanistan. But today our efforts and the efforts of India are joined by the Western powers," Klebanov said at a press conference.
Klebanov announced that Russia expected to sign an agreement next month to lease to India four TU-22 bombers which are capable of carrying nuclear warheads.
However, he refused to answer questions on whether Russia planned to also lease a nuclear submarine to India, as the former Soviet Union had done in the heyday of the Cold War.
Last year, India signed a deal with Russia to buy $3 billion worth of military hardware including SU-30 fighters, T-90 tanks and the aircraft carrier, Admiral Gorshkov, reminiscent of close military ties between New Delhi and Moscow during the Cold War years.
India supported the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan during the 1980s and has continued to provide aid to the Northern Alliance while Pakistan backed the Taliban militarily until the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the U.S., allegedly by Afghanistan-based jihadist leader Osama bin Laden.
The press conference followed extensive consultations Klebanov held with Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee focusing on a future set-up in Afghanistan and the current situation in the region.
As Powell landed in Islamabad October 15, Indian troops shelled Pakistani army positions across the Line of Control (LoC) which runs through Muslim majority Kashmir, whose possession by India has been disputed by Pakistan for more than 50 years.
The shelling drew a swift response from President George Bush, who said it was "very important that India and Pakistan stand down during our activities in Afghanistan -- for that matter forever."
According to officials in Washington, Bush has repeatedly emphasized during meetings of the National Security Council that, in finding a permanent solution to the Afghan conflict, he preferred "not to have to deal with a similar threat like the Taliban three years from now."
Pakistan's military ruler, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, has warned that a power vacuum in Kabul could result in renewed civil war and has sought assurances that a post-Taliban arrangement would take into consideration the interests of the majority Pushtun community.
The Pushtun tribe, which forms 45 percent of Afghanistan's population, straddles the Durand line that divides Pakistan from Afghanistan while most of the other major groups, including Tajiks, Uzbeks and Hazaras, form part of the Northern Alliance.
visit to Islamabad was aimed at exploring possibilities for a return of the exiled king, Zahir Shah, who although a Pashtun, is believed to have the potential to act as a unifying factor for Afghanistan's warring tribes during an interim arrangement.
"Ex-king Mohammed Zahir Shah, the moderate wing of the Taliban, the Northern Alliance as well as the Afghan political emigres must take part in the formation of the future government," Musharraf declared at a joint press conference with Powell, marking the end of his visit.
Powell appeared to agree with Musharraf's view that the Taliban must have role in a future government. "If you got rid of the regime (Taliban) there will still be those who might find the teachings, feelings and beliefs of that movement still very important," he said at the press conference.
India's concerns regarding a broad-based future government in Kabul are officially referred to here as "cross-border terrorism in Kashmir aided and abetted by Islamabad."
Indian Army sources said last week's shelling was in response to attempts by Pakistani troops to "support and push terrorist groups across the LoC into Jammu and Kashmir."
"The Indian Army launched a successful operation against the Pakistani Army's repeated involvement in abetting activities across the LoC and the international border," a senior army officer said.
After a suicide attack on Kashmir's state assembly building on Oct. 1 in which 39 people died, Prime Minister Vajpayee warned President Bush that India's patience was at an end and that New Delhi reserved the right to act in self-defense against groups based in Pakistan.
Since then, the Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammed group, which claimed responsibility for the suicide attack, has had its accounts frozen by the U.S. administration. But other militant groups active in Kashmir such as the Lashkar-e-Toiba are yet to be included in Washington's list.
The Jaish-e-Muhammed last week warned of further attacks in Kashmir in retaliation for the freezing of its assets, which it alleged happened at the request of India.
"We warn them (Indians) to beware of the Mujahideen (freedom fighters). We would soon cause them a smashing blow to assert our authority," the organization's chief Mauna Massed Azhar said in a press statement.
India's foreign minister Jaswant Singh, who is expected to hold discussions with Powell, said India would stress that "terrorism has to be addressed in all its forms and manifestations and that the international community should take due cognizance of our concerns over cross-border terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir."
October 22, 2001 (http://www.monitor.net/monitor) All Rights Reserved. Contact email@example.com for permission to use in any format.
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