- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 29, 2002

India's Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee was quoted yesterday as ruling out a war with Pakistan and reporting progress in solving disputes that have to led to a tense military standoff between the nuclear-armed neighbors.
"There will be no war between the two countries, and all issues will be resolved peacefully," Mr. Vajpayee told reporters, according to Reuters news agency, which in turn quoted the Press Trust of India (PTI).
"Diplomatic efforts are on and meeting with success. There is no question nor a decision to proceed toward a military action," added the Indian leader, who spoke in Raipur in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh.
The statement appeared to have caught both the State Department and India's embassy in Washington by surprise.
"We would certainly welcome a development that takes war off the table as a solution to the dispute between the two major powers of South Asia," a State Department spokeman said.
He said the Indian government had not contacted the United States about the remarks.
Officials in the Indian Embassy also said they had not heard about yesterday's statement, which was the most conciliatory public comment from the Indian government since a terrorist attack against its Parliament in New Delhi on Dec. 13.
Since then troops of the two nations have been moved to the border amid threatening declarations on both sides.
India has shrugged off promises by Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf to rein in terrorists, while Pakistan has promised to answer in kind if attacked.
While the focus has been on the terrorist attack in the Indian capital, the root cause of the dispute has been the state of Kashmir, a Muslim-majority territory that is ruled by India.
The dispute goes back five decades, to when Kashmir's Hindu princely ruler decided the territory should go to India rather than Pakistan.
A war broke out immediately after independence in 1947. Another followed in 1965, and a third in 1971 led to the breakup up Pakistan, with the east becoming the independent state of Bangladesh.
India says it will not pull back its troops from Pakistan's border until Pakistan blocks Islamic militant infiltration into Kashmir and surrenders 20 persons on its most-wanted list.
The reported comments by Mr. Vajpayee stood in contrast to statements earlier yesterday.
Mr. Vajpayee, addressing a public meeting at another location in central India, rejected Pakistan's call for talks between the two leaders and said the return of the Pakistan-controlled part of Kashmir to India was central to resolving the bitter dispute.
"Every day, I am reading newspaper reports that Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf wants to have discussions with me. Pakistan lost three wars and now wants discussion with India," PTI quoted Mr. Vajpayee as saying.
Mr. Musharraf called in a message to Mr. Vajpayee last week for talks to end their standoff.
The Indian leader said Pakistan maintained Kashmir was the central issue between the arch-rivals.
"If Kashmir is the central issue, then one-third of Kashmir is occupied by Pakistan illegally. Therefore, they should return that to India first and then start talks," Mr. Vajpayee said.
India holds 45 percent of the disputed territory, Pakistan a third of the area and China the remainder.
Pakistan demands implementation of a 1948 U.N. Security Council resolution for a plebiscite to determine the wishes of the Kashmiri people.

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