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US Says India-Pakistan Tensions Eased; But War Still Possible - 2002-06-08

Amid continuing high-level diplomatic efforts to ease tensions between India and Pakistan, the United States says there are signs of a significant drop in the level of infiltration by Islamic guerrillas into Indian-administered Kashmir. The comment by the State Department came as one senior U.S. official was ending a diplomatic mission in the area, while another was heading there.

State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said there were "growing indications" that infiltration across the line of control separating Pakistani and Indian-controlled Kashmir has dropped significantly.

However, Mr. Boucher says it is still too early to tell whether the reduction will continue as a result of requests by the United States to Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf. "We can't at this point say that this change has been done on a permanent basis," he said. "That's what President Musharraf has promised, that's what we're looking for."

Another indication came Friday from a senior defense official traveling with U.S. defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld, currently in Europe.

The official said several thousand Pakistani troops have moved closer to the border with Afghanistan. Earlier, Pakistan said it was pulling troops out of that area because of rising tensions with India over Kashmir.

Mr. Rumsfeld is due to arrive in Islamabad next Wednesday for talks with President Musharraf, and will go on to New Delhi on Thursday.

Earlier, U.S. deputy secretary of State Richard Armitage said he told India's prime minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee, that Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf is serious about putting a permanent end to cross-border infiltration of militants into Indian-administered Kashmir.

Mr. Armitage said he told Mr. Vajpayee President Musharraf wants to avoid war at all costs. The U.S. diplomat said he believes India too wants to avoid war, but it will not waver from its stated goal of seeing an end to the cross-border infiltration of separatist militants into Indian-administered Kashmir.

"The government of India, I think, is also intent on, if possible, to avoid war," he said. "They do want terrorism to stop, and in this regard, we share a view with the government of India."

Indian officials say their proposal for joint monitoring by India and Pakistan of the "line of control" that divides Kashmir is the key to ending the crisis. Pakistan says international monitors should do the job, something India rejects.

Mr. Armitage says no decisions have been made with regard to the proposals from either side. However, he told reporters that he felt during his visit to Islamabad on Thursday that tensions were easing, yet the risk of war remains:

"Where tensions are high and troops face each other, there is always the risk of war," he said. "And, until that situation is changed, there will be the risk. But at the present time, we are just trying to manage things and bring down the tension and the temperature a little bit, so that people of good will on both sides of this question can live prosperous lives."

India and Pakistan have an estimated one-million troops massed along the border, and there has been heavy cross-border firing on an almost daily basis at various points along the "line of control" in Kashmir.