- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 9, 2002

NEW DELHI The threat of war between nuclear-armed India and Pakistan appeared to lessen yesterday, with India saying that Pakistan was moving "in the right direction" and Pakistan affirming that "ice has broken." A top U.S. envoy said tensions over the Kashmir region were down "measurably."
Still, cross-border shelling resumed along the cease-fire line that divides the disputed Himalayan region between India and Pakistan, claiming 10 more lives. Three were killed on India's side of the border, and Pakistan reported seven dead.
Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, fresh from talks in India and Pakistan, said yesterday that both countries seemed prepared to make conciliatory gestures. India is considering returning some recalled diplomats to Pakistan and making "military gestures" to lessen tensions.
"I think you couldn't say the crisis is over, but I think you could say the tensions are down measurably," Mr. Armitage told reporters as he arrived in Estonia on a flight from New Delhi.
He said that within days he expected New Delhi to make reciprocal gestures to Pakistan's assurances that it will halt cross-border infiltration of the Islamic militants who have waged a violent 12-year insurgency for the independence of Indian Kashmir or its merger with Pakistan.
"It's quite clear that there will be some actions on the part of India responding to the messages I brought" from Pakistan, said Mr. Armitage, who met with Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf on Thursday and Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee on Friday.
Mr. Armitage stopped in Estonia to consult with Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, who was attending a weekend meeting with Baltic and Nordic defense ministers. Mr. Rumsfeld is to visit Pakistan and India in a few days to resume talks.
The Indians "are talking about some diplomatic actions, which could include the return of some people to diplomatic postings in Islamabad and some ratcheting down of some sort of military tension," Mr. Armitage said.
"They are going to make, as I understand it, perhaps some military gestures as well, prior to Secretary Rumsfeld's arrival," he said.
Nirupama Rao, spokeswoman for the Indian Foreign Ministry, said that through Mr. Armitage, India had responded positively to Gen. Musharraf's assurances.
"India welcomes the pledge by President General Pervez Musharraf to permanently end cross-border infiltration of terrorists into Jammu-Kashmir," Mrs. Rao said. "This is a step forward and in the right direction."
Indian Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh conveyed similar sentiments to Secretary of State Colin L. Powell during a phone call yesterday, Mrs. Rao said. Mr. Powell also spoke with Gen. Musharraf yesterday, the State Department said.
Mr. Singh told Mr. Powell that India would carefully assess how Gen. Musharraf's promise was carried out and "respond appropriately and positively," she said.
In Pakistan, Information Minister Nisar Memon said that it seems "the ice has broken, and due to the efforts of our friends, India has started understanding our position."
In response to Mr. Armitage's comments, Mr. Memon said he hoped India would agree to resume dialogue with Pakistan on all issues, "including the core issue of Kashmir."
"It's our commitment that we will not allow anyone to use our soil for terrorism within and outside of Pakistan," Mr. Memon told the Associated Press in Islamabad. "It's a good beginning."
A senior Indian military officer told the AP that the government was likely to announce within 48 hours measures to de-escalate tensions, such as lifting some of the mutual sanctions they imposed after an attack on the Indian Parliament on Dec. 13. But the troops along their border were likely to remain until India could better assess whether militants' infiltration had ended, he said.
India and Pakistan cut air and road links, downsized their embassies and massed nearly 1 million troops on the border after the attack on Parliament, which New Delhi blamed on Pakistan-based Islamic groups. Pakistan denied the charge, but New Delhi has threatened to retaliate with war unless Gen. Musharraf makes a tangible effort to halt the infiltration.
Elsewhere, Pakistan said its jets shot down an unmanned Indian spy plane. Pakistani officials said the plane was carrying an Israeli-made camera and caught fire moments after it came under attack late Friday. India's Defense Ministry confirmed the downing of the unmanned drone.

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