Last updated at: (Beijing Time) Tuesday, March 16, 2004

News analysis: What behind Powell's visit to South Asia?

US Secretary of State Colin Powell flew into New Delhi Monday night, kicking off a five-day visit to South Asia which will also take him to Pakistan and Afghanistan.


US Secretary of State Colin Powell flew into New Delhi Monday night, kicking off a five-day visit to South Asia which will also take him to Pakistan and Afghanistan.

He is scheduled to hold talks with the leaders of the three countries on issues concerning bilateral relations and regional matters.

Local observers say the major purpose of Powell's visit is to prevent the nuclear proliferation in South Asian region.

"The United State is very much concerned about the selling of nuclear secrets to Iran, Libya and North Korea by Pakistani's top nuclear scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan, as nuclear weapons could finally fall into the hands of terrorists," said a Western diplomat in New Delhi.

In India, Powell will hold wide-ranging discussions with External Affairs Minister Yashwant Sinha on bilateral relations and other regional and international issues.

"India is likely to flag its concerns over nuclear proliferation in its neighborhood during talks with Powell as New Delhi's concerns have been reinforced following the admission by Khan of secretly exporting sensitive technology," well-informed sources said.

In Islamabad, Powell is expected to seek information, clarification and reassurance on Khan's activities. With the fight against terrorism still going on, Washington is keen on preventing any further diversion of nuclear technology.

Another issue also high on Powell's agenda is to drum up support from Pakistan and Afghanistan on the ongoing war against Osama bin Laden and his Al-Qaeda terrorist network.

Currently, the United States is engaged in a spring offensive in Afghanistan in a bid to catch Osama bin Laden and his associates. With more terrorist attacks, including the bombings in Madrid, Spain last week which claimed 200 lives, Washington is under stronger pressure to bring the mastermind of terrorist attacks to justice.

"President George W. Bush is eager to catch bin Laden as that would boost his re-election campaign and gain him more voters in the polling," said another diplomat.

Due to the porous border between Pakistan and Afghanistan, Powell has to support Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf so as to gain support from his country. Without support from President Musharraf, it would be unbelievable to get the wanted terrorists.

"So the United States must support the Pakistani government while preventing further exporting of nuclear secrets to other countries, what would not be for the policy-makers in Washington," a local observer said.

One more important topic between Powell and Indian leaders will be the recent initiatives to improve Indo-Pak relations.

In January, landmark talks in Pakistan between Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and Musharraf marked a thaw in their strained relations.

An official said Powell's visit to India is an indicator that Washington supports the improving ties which will be conducive to both regional stability and the war against terrorism in the region.

Powell is also expected to hold talks in New Delhi on strengthening Indian-US ties, including joint space programs and high-tech trade.

The visit to South Asia by Powell seems not easy and whether hewill achieve his goals remains to be seen.

Source: Xinhua

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