RALEIGH, N.C. – India is ready to talk over Kashmir and other issues with Pakistan once its rival blocks Islamic extremists from crossing over the border to wreck havoc, the Indian ambassador to the United States said.
"We are saying, 'We are prepared to have a dialogue with you and let's talk about normalization," Lalit Mansingh said Friday during a visit to North Carolina. "But dialogue and terrorism cannot go together. Pakistan has to choose."
Tensions have risen after a deadly terrorist attack on India's Parliament in December that India blamed on Pakistan-based Islamic insurgents. The conflict has grown recently as 1 million troops amass in the disputed Himalayan Kashmir region and shells kill soldiers. At least six people from both sides were killed Friday by shelling, the countries said.
India accuses Pakistan of supporting Islamic militant groups waging an insurgency in the Indian-ruled portion of Kashmir, and has demanded it stop cross-border infiltrations. Pakistan says its support for the insurgents is moral and diplomatic but not financial.
Mansingh said India is willing to talk with Pakistan but not while the threat of Muslim extremist terror remains in that country.
"It can't be done with a gun pointed to our head," he said in an interview in Raleigh.
The dispute between India and Pakistan, both of which have nuclear weapons, places the Bush administration in a delicate situation because it is closely allied with Pakistan to try to eradicate al-Qaida in Afghanistan.
Mansingh said India doesn't want war and won't fire nuclear weapons first in a dispute, he said.
"While the military option is there, that should be our very last option," he added.
Meanwhile, Mansingh said relations between the United States and India remain strong because both are committed to rooting out terrorism -- particularly al-Qaida.
The ambassador framed the two countries as fighting a common enemy in al-Qaida: India on the eastern Pakistani border and U.S. forces in Afghanistan near the west Pakistan border.
"It has not diminished our relationship, it has made it more intense," he said. "We are facing the same enemy."
The U.S. government on Friday urged the 60,000 Americans in India, including hundreds of U.S. diplomats, to leave the country because of a risk of conflict between India and Pakistan.
"Tensions have risen to serious levels and the risk of intensified military hostilities between India and Pakistan cannot be ruled out," the State Department said in its travel warning.
The embassy advisory, which is not a mandatory order to leave, said terrorist groups linked to al-Qaida have attacked and killed civilians in India.
Mansingh said Indians have never been hostile to Americans.
"I don't think the situation justifies asking Americans to leave India," he said. "I have told the State Department that this shouldn't be seen as a sign of panic because there is no such thing in India. ... There is no panic."
The ambassador's trip, prompted by contacts within the Triangle's Indian community, included visits to University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Duke University and N.C. State University. He met with officials in Gov. Mike Easley's office as well as U.S. Reps. Bob Etheridge and David Price.
While most discussions were preliminary, Mansingh said he suggested that Easley lead a trade trip to India.