India calls for joint battle against terrorism

India on Friday called for a joint battle against terrorism in South Asia, a day before a meeting of the leaders of India and Pakistan, which New Delhi accuses of arming militants in the disputed Kashmir region.

"A clear message must go out from the SAARC summit that there is zero tolerance for terrorism in any form," said E. Ahamed, India's junior External Affairs Minister, referring to the South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation.

Ahamed is representing India at the meeting of foreign ministers of India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Nepal, the Maldives and Bhutan.

India accuses Pakistan of training and arming Islamic militants fighting for Kashmir's independence from India or its merger with Pakistan since 1989. Pakistan denies the charge. More than 66,000 people, mostly civilians, have been killed in the nearly 16-year conflict.

A series of bomb blasts in the Indian capital last month killed more than 60 people. Though there is no conclusive evidence so far, Indian police believe the attacks were carried out by Islamic militants. The issue of terrorism is likely to figure during Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's meeting with his Pakistani counterpart, Shaukat Aziz, on the fringes of the SAARC summit on Saturday.

At the last SAARC summit in Islamabad, Pakistan President Gen. Pervez Musharraf assured India that he would not allow Pakistani territory to be used for terrorist acts.

India's relations with Bangladesh have been strained following frequent clashes between their border guards.

New Delhi says Dhaka provides refuge to insurgents fighting separatist wars in India' remote northeast, a charge Bangladesh denies.

Meanwhile, all the seven SAARC member-states have approved a protocol on counterterrorism which requires them to redouble their efforts to prevent the financing of terrorist acts, reports the AP. I.L.

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