- The Washington Times - Friday, January 4, 2002

KATMANDU, Nepal The leaders of India and Pakistan said they were trying to avert war as they headed to a regional summit today, but despite world pressure, Indian officials insisted they would not use the gathering to talk peace.

Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and Pakistan’s president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, will meet at the Nepal gathering for the first time since a failed summit in July. However, India’s delegation says there will be no one-on-one talks until they are satisfied Pakistan has cracked down on Islamic militants.

Despite an apparent easing of tensions, the armies from the nuclear-armed rivals remain on alert, and violence continued in the disputed province of Kashmir, the catalyst for two wars and the breakdown of their July talks.

Indian and Pakistani troops traded gunfire overnight and Islamic militants in Pakistan reportedly threatened more attacks in Kashmir. Both sides claim the divided Himalayan province in its entirety.

Mr. Vajpayee said yesterday that diplomacy could avert another war, and his foreign minister, Jaswant Singh, made India’s first positive comments about Pakistan’s recent moves against Islamic militant groups based in the country.

The latest round of hostilities erupted after a Dec. 13 suicide attack on India’s Parliament that New Delhi blamed on militants based in Pakistan. Indian officials demanded Pakistan arrest the militants’ leaders and the nations massed troops along their border.

“Pakistan wants peace and de-escalation,” Gen. Musharraf said yesterday. But he warned in comments to his military commanders and Cabinet, “Should a mistake of attacking Pakistan be made, they would regret their decision.”

Mr. Vajpayee also held out hope for a peaceful solution.

“Efforts are being made to avoid war through diplomatic channels. If that succeeds, there will be no need to opt for other alternatives,” the prime minister told reporters in India before flying to Nepal.

Mr. Vajpayee and Mr. Singh said there will be no one-on-one meetings with Pakistani officials until they have conducted an effective and sustained crackdown on militants.

A top aide to Mr. Vajpayee said “sparks would fly” if there were to be a tete-a-tete with Gen. Musharraf.

Mr. Singh adjusted his previous criticism of Islamabad’s crackdown on the Islamic militant groups.

After the United States declared Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed the two main Pakistan-based militant groups terrorist organizations, Pakistan froze their assets, arrested their leaders and nearly 50 other members.

Before the arrests, Mr. Singh had called the moves “cosmetic,” but yesterday he said they were “welcome steps in the right direction.”

Pakistan government spokesman Ashfaq Gondal called Mr. Singh’s remarks “something positive.” Pakistani officials said they were pleased that both nations were at least attending the summit, where the leaders will be in the same room.

The South Asian rivals’ latest feud has raised global concerns, even though both governments have committed not to make a first strike.

In Washington, White House spokesman Scott McClellan said the summit “could be an opportunity for them to seek ways to make progress toward resolving their current differences and reducing tensions.”

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said he was confident that India and Pakistan would resolve their differences peacefully.

“I don’t think they are going to go to war. I think they are going to sort these things out,” Mr. Rumsfeld said at a Pentagon briefing.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair arrived in Bangladesh yesterday for a subcontinent tour that will include meetings with the Indian and Pakistani leaders after the summit.

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