India pulls back navy as Rumsfeld heads in


India took a tentative step down from its war footing with Pakistan on Tuesday, hours before the start of a mission by U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to defuse their military standoff.

The Indian navy said its western fleet, which includes the country’s only aircraft carrier, had been ordered to end patrols off Pakistani waters in the Arabian Sea and head back to port.

“They are likely to enter Bombay shortly,” navy spokesman Commander Rahul Gupta said.

An Indian government source said New Delhi had also selected a new ambassador to Islamabad to replace the envoy it recalled six months ago after an attack on the Indian parliament that India blamed on Pakistan-based Muslim militants. No decision had been taken to send him to Islamabad. Rumsfeld, who was due in India later on Tuesday, said tensions between the nuclear-capable South Asian neighbours appeared to be levelling off.

“It’s not getting worse and that’s a good thing,” he said in Qatar, adding he would put specific proposals to both sides in talks in New Delhi on Wednesday and then in Islamabad.

Pakistan had no immediate reaction to the latest Indian moves, but President Pervez Musharraf earlier made clear that a decision by New Delhi on Monday to reopen its airspace to Pakistani overflights fell well short of what he expected.

“We are looking for genuine steps, not peripheral or cosmetic,” Musharraf told a news conference in Abu Dhabi at the end of a visit to the United Arab Emirates.

“The real response that we are looking for is initiation of a dialogue…on the core Kashmir dispute and all the other issues which bedevil relations between Indian and Pakistan,” he said.

Asked whether he was going to reciprocate, he said: “Pakistan has done far more than its share in easing the tensions.”

A million troops remain massed on the India Pakistan border in a stand-off over disputed Kashmir that has raised fears of a conflict that could escalate into the world’s first nuclear war.

At least eight people, including four members of one Pakistani family, were reported killed on Tuesday in what has become a daily exchange of artillery and mortar fire across the “line of control” in the divided Himalayan region.