U.S. sees India-Pakistan tensions easing


NEW DELHI, India, AP

A top American diplomat said Friday that tensions had eased between nuclear-armed rivals India and Pakistan but that it was too soon to rule out the threat of a war over the disputed province of Kashmir.

“Tensions are a little bit down,” U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage told reporters after meeting with Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee in the Indian capital.

Armitage had held talks with Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf in Islamabad on Thursday on the first stop of his mission to try to defuse a standoff that has led India and Pakistan to mass 1 million troops along their frontier.

In New Delhi, Armitage did not publicly discuss any new ideas for ending the crisis but expressed cautious optimism.

“I feel very good about the discussions in India,” Armitage said. “If tensions are high, there is always a risk of war. Until that situation is changed, there will be the risk.”

Vajpayee did not appear before reporters with Armitage.

But Indian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Nirupama Rao said in another briefing that Armitage had advised India that the Pakistani leader acknowledged the need for permanent action to stop the infiltration of Indian territory by Muslim extremists from Pakistan’s side.

That has been India’s key condition for talking peace with Islamabad — and Rao reiterated that New Delhi needs proof that Musharraf means business.

“That’s something we hope to see translated into action,” Rao said. “We need to check whether this is a credible assurance.”

Asked whether India has seen any evidence of infiltration lessening across the India-Pakistan frontier in the past week, Rao said there was “no established trend to suggest that there has been a change in the situation on the ground.”

Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh insisted earlier that India does not want war.

“We are very much committed to moving on the path of peace because to peace there is no alternative,” Singh said.

Earlier Friday, Indian and Pakistani troops exchanged mortar and machine-gun fire in Kashmir, killing at least six people — three on each side — and forcing hundreds of residents in the Pakistani part of the disputed Himalayan province to flee as Indian artillery shells hit nearby.