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Hopes Grow for Easing of India-Pakistan Tensions

Hopes for eased tensions between India and Pakistan are growing. India says it welcomes a pledge by Pakistan to end infiltration of Muslim militants into Indian Kashmir, and Pakistan says the "ice has broken" over the disputed region.

The toning down of war rhetoric took place after Indian foreign ministry said that Pakistan's pledge to "immediately and permanently" end cross-border infiltration of Islamic militants in Indian Kashmir is a "step forward and in the right direction."

New Delhi says the Pakistani promises on ending incursions have been conveyed by the U.S. administration. The Indian government is reported to be finalizing some steps to defuse the crisis. These steps are expected to be announced within days.

U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, who concluded a trip to the region Saturday, said New Delhi's conciliatory gestures towards Pakistan could include the return of some diplomats, and, in his words, "some ratcheting down of some sort of military tension."

India and Pakistan scaled down diplomatic ties, and began a military buildup after an attack on the Indian Parliament by suspected Islamic militants last December. However, Indian officials say there is no move yet to recall the tens of thousands of troops who have been mobilized on the border with Pakistan for nearly six months.

An Indian foreign policy analyst, JN Dixit, said the softening of tensions is "tentative", and the crisis will only ease in the long-term if New Delhi is satisified that cross-border infiltration of Islamic militants into Kashmir has halted. "It all depends on the situation as it develops on the ground, for which I think two to four weeks are necessary to see how far assurances brought from [Pakistan's president] Musharraf by Deputy secretary of State Armitage gets translated into policy and actual situation. And if those assurances get translated into ground realities, the prospects for further normalization improve," he said.

In Islamabad, Pakistan's Information Minister Nisar Memon said Washington helped defuse the standoff and "the ice has broken".

The diplomatic offensive to defuse the crisis in South Asia is continuing. In telephone conversations with India's foreign Minsiter Jaswant Singh and Pakistan's president Pervez Musharraf, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell has urged the nuclear armed rivals to reduce tensions. U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld visits the region this week.

The easing of tensions has not had much impact on the cross-border shelling that began three weeks ago between Indian and Pakistani forces. More border skirmishes were reported over the weekend. The shelling is reported to have killed and wounded several people on both sides.