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British US Diplomacy Saved India Pakistan From War Straw

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by Deborah Haynes
London (AFP) Mar 29, 2006
Intense diplomatic efforts by Britain and the United States prevented nuclear neighbours India and Pakistan from going to war four years ago, British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said on Tuesday.

The Foreign Office, headed by Straw, and the US State Department, under then secretary of state Colin Powell, worked tirelessly to defuse the stand-off between the countries over the disputed region of Kashmir, the minister said.

He was responding to a question about hopes for a peaceful settlement of the Kashmir problem following a speech in London to British diplomats.

"In early 2002 the anxiety internationally ... was whether Pakistan and India would move towards a conventional war -- after all they have had three of those -- which in turn could turn into a nuclear war," Straw recalled.

"If that had happened the consequences for the world would have been catastrophic," he said.

"It took very active diplomacy by the United States and the United Kingdom -- and it was those two countries and bluntly no others."

Straw said he and Powell were heavily involved in negotiations with the rowing neighbours, travelling repeatedly to the region during three months of discussions.

"In the end, Pakistan and India looked over the abyss, saw starkly that they simply couldn't start another conventional war, where it might lead and pulled back," said Straw.

Rather than a frozen conflict developing, this move led to a thawing of relations between the two countries.

Former Indian prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee followed by his successor Manmohan Singh agreed to dialogue with Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf over a range of issues including Kashmir, the Himalayan territory that is divided between India and Pakistan.

The neighbours have fought two of their three wars since 1947 over Kashmir.

They came dangerously close to a fourth conflict in 2002 after an attack by gunmen on the Indian parliament which New Delhi said was sponsored by Islamabad.

However, a peace process started two years ago has seen the relaunch of transport links between the rivals, including in Kashmir, and has reduced tension in the territory. They each hold part of Kashmir but claim it in full.

Straw admitted Britain's historical failings in its two former colonies.

But he also underscored the importance of diplomacy, at a time when the international community is struggling to engage with Iran over its disputed nuclear programme.

The benefits for the whole world from having British and US diplomats on the ground in India and Pakistan four years ago was huge, Straw said.

If "people ever say to you: 'What is a diplomat for?', say a diplomat is partly for stopping wars and if you want to know about a war that diplomats stopped, British and American diplomats, yes backed by their secretaries of state, stopped a war," he said.

"I say this without any false modesty, if we had not together -- state department, foreign office, Powell and myself -- been involved, there could have been, would have been a war."

Source: Agence France-Presse

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