- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 6, 2002

KATMANDU, Nepal India's prime minister grudgingly shook hands with Pakistan's president at a regional summit yesterday, but he rebuffed an offer of talks until Pakistan cracks down on Islamic militants.
The two nations' armies yesterday exchanged shellfire across the line dividing the Himalayan territory of Kashmir. A truckload of explosives being unloaded by Indian soldiers at the border went off accidentally, killing 17 persons.
The handshake took place when Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf addressed a summit of South Asian leaders including Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee in a speech broadcast live throughout the region.
"I extend a hand of genuine and sincere friendship to Prime Minister Vajpayee," Gen. Musharraf said. "Let us together commence a journey of peace, harmony and progress in South Asia."
He then strode across the stage to a surprised Mr. Vajpayee and offered a handshake. The Indian leader rose from his seat and politely accepted with a faint smile. He later snubbed Gen. Musharraf, refusing to look at the waiting general or shake his hand when the meetings ended for the day.
In his own speech, Mr. Vajpayee said Gen. Musharraf's gesture should be followed by an end to support for terrorism.
"I have shaken his hand in your presence," Mr. Vajpayee told the audience. "Now, President Musharraf must follow the gesture by not permitting any activity in Pakistan or any territory in its control today which enables terrorists to perpetuate mindless violence in India."
New Delhi accuses Islamabad of waging a "proxy war" against it by backing Pakistan-based Islamic militants battling India's rule over two-thirds of Kashmir. Pakistan says its support for the militants whom it calls "freedom fighters" is only political.
The two nuclear-armed nations have massed tens of thousands of troops along their 1,100-mile frontier since a Dec. 13 attack by gunmen on India's Parliament, which India blamed on Islamic militants.
Meanwhile, the Indian army said that Pakistani soldiers fired rockets and mortar shells yesterday across the cease-fire line that divides Kashmir, the Himalayan region over which both nations have fought two of their three wars. Indian soldiers shelled the Pakistanis, destroying eight bunkers, while an Indian child and two men were injured in the exchange when a house was hit, said an army spokesman.
At the Indian border village of Mahwa, soldiers were unloading a truck filled with land mines and other explosives when one of the mines went off, sparking a massive blast. Fourteen soldiers and three passers-by were killed and 20 persons wounded, police said.
The United States and other countries had hoped Mr. Vajpayee and Gen. Musharraf would meet one-on-one at the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation summit in the Nepalese capital to ease tensions. But India has repeatedly refused talks at any level, and officials dismissed Gen. Musharraf's handshake as a show.
"An offer of friendship has to be accompanied by acts of friendship," Indian Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh said. "Handling terrorism can't be a PR exercise."
The Pakistan government announced Friday it had detained more than 130 Islamic militants, including leaders of the two groups India blames for the Parliament attack.
The seven South Asian leaders agreed on a draft document on terrorism to be signed at the end of their summit today, said Nepal's Finance Minister Ramsharan Mahat. The agreement came during an informal, hourlong gathering later in the day, which Mr. Vajpayee skipped.
Washington is concerned that the standoff could hurt its campaign against the Taliban and the al Qaeda terror network in nearby Afghanistan. Secretary of State Colin L. Powell said Friday he may send an envoy to South Asia to try to pull India and Pakistan away from confrontation.


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