A sharp reminder to Bush

Observations on India and Pakistan

Like America and Israel, India believes it is the victim of international terrorism. The country feels constantly threatened by neighbour- ing Pakistan's encouragement of terrorists in its disputed northern state of Kashmir and it reckons that George W Bush's "axis of evil" should stretch to include Pakistan.

The Bush administration, however, does not entirely agree. Its primary interest is to do nothing that might disrupt the help it receives from Pakistan's president, General Pervez Musharraf, in its hunt for Osama Bin Laden and al-Qaeda activists. Opinion is therefore divided in Washington about how tough to be with Musharraf over his failure to stem the flow of Islamic terrorists crossing Pakistan's eastern border into India - even though terrorist attacks nearly led to a war twice last year between these two nuclear powers.

That division of opinion emerged last Monday when Robert Blackwill, the outspoken US ambassador in New Delhi, unexpectedly announced that he is resigning after only two years in the job. India's ministry of external affairs has been pushing the line that Blackwill's abrupt exit is due to his frustration with splits in the US State Department over Pakistan.

The splits are real. A major clash was reported when India's foreign secretary, Kanwal Sibal, complained in Washington two months ago to Christina Rocca, assistant secretary of state for South Asia, that the US was allowing Musharraf a free hand in Kashmir. Rocca, it seems, warned that India, supported by Blackwill, was upping the ante with threats of tough action against Pakistan if it did not curb the terrorism.

A leading academic and diplomatic expert in Russian and Chinese affairs, Blackwill wants to return to Harvard, where he was a professor for 14 years before going to India, as much as he wants to escape from the frustrations of State Department infighting. He sees himself as a Bush insider, having worked on the president's election campaign, and probably seeks to be nearer the centre of power for the next presidential campaign.

It is important for the peace of the region that Blackwill's pro-India line should continue to be pushed in Washington. India's prime minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee, made a rare visit to Kashmir on Easter weekend and hinted that he is willing for talks to start with Pakistan. That offer, however, is conditional on Pakistan stopping the terrorism - which is why American pressure is vital.

As Blackwill provocatively wrote in his resignation statement on 21 April: "The fight against international terrorism will not be won until terrorism against India ends permanently. There can be no other legitimate stance by the US, no American compromise whatever on this elemental and geopolitical moral truth."