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Tensions Easing in Kashmir Dispute

South Asia: Powell leaves New Delhi, buoyed by India and Pakistan's conciliatory messages and a decrease in clashes.


NEW DELHI — With tensions easing slightly between India and Pakistan, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell said Friday that the two nuclear powers appear to be heading toward a peaceful resolution of their dangerous military standoff over Kashmir.

After talks here with Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, Powell said he was leaving India "very encouraged that we can find a solution to this troubling situation."

India accuses Pakistan-based Kashmir separatists of launching a brazen raid on its Parliament on Dec. 13 that killed 14 people, including the five gunmen. Powell said Friday that he supports India's demand for further action from Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf against terrorism.

"I think we are on a path that could lead to the restoration of dialogue, and the kind of confidence-building activity that the [Indian] prime minister spoke of," Powell told reporters. "But it will take further action before we can really start walking down that path more aggressively."

He called for patience and asked both sides "to remain committed to the diplomatic track" as hundreds of thousands of soldiers face off on the front lines.

"And we also have to be mindful that there are probably people out there who might want to create another incident to cause a conflagration," Powell warned. "We have to be sensitive to that."

A bomb blast that killed at least one person and injured about 10 others Thursday night in Jammu, the winter capital of the disputed Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir, was a terrorist attack, Indian Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh said. But India's official response to it was muted, and its military says that clashes with Pakistani troops are decreasing along the 1972 cease-fire line known as the Line of Control, which divides the Himalayan region between India and Pakistan.

In Islamabad, the Pakistani capital, Musharraf delivered a similarly conciliatory message, saying he believes that a conflagration with India can be avoided. "I'm confident there won't be war," he told a conference of religious leaders.

Although he included some harsh rhetoric in his speech, declaring that his nation has the ability to counter any Indian military offensive and launch its own counteroffensive in Kashmir, those comments were viewed more as necessary posturing to head off accusations of weakness from hard-liners at home than an attempt to escalate the crisis.

In Pakistan, there is a growing feeling that a week-old government crackdown against several Islamic militant groups has helped diminish any immediate prospect of an armed conflict. The crackdown followed a major speech by Musharraf a week ago in which the Pakistani leader condemned extremist groups, accusing them of endangering the country's stability and damaging its international reputation.

Pakistani Interior Ministry officials claim that more than 2,000 people suspected of ties to the groups have been detained in a nationwide police roundup. Javed Iqbal Cheema, a senior Interior Ministry official involved in coordinating the massive sweep, said this week that about 5,000 people were being targeted in the action, which could last several months.

But India has repeatedly said it won't start talking peace with Pakistan until Islamabad stops the infiltration of separatist fighters across the Line of Control. New Delhi also insists that Pakistan must hand over 20 suspected terrorists and criminals for trial in India.

"We will know when things stop happening over the Line of Control when things stop happening over the Line of Control," Powell said. But the secretary of State said India's prime minister had welcomed "some important words said and important actions taken" by Musharraf.

"And if we continue to see progress in that regard, then I expect we will see steps taken on the part of the Indian government," Powell added.

India's wanted list of 20 men, which includes 14 Indian citizens accused of bombings and other terrorist attacks, "is an issue of continuing discussion between India and the Pakistani government," Powell said.

India has provided additional details on the suspects to Pakistan and given a copy of the information to the U.S. delegation, Powell added. Musharraf said last Saturday that he will never extradite Pakistani citizens to India but didn't rule out sending Indian nationals.

"We hope that President Musharraf, as he has said in the past, will examine all that information and do what is the appropriate thing to do in the case of each one of those 20 individuals," Powell said.

Indian intelligence sources claim that several of the men have been living under Pakistani government protection in Karachi, the country's main commercial center. Singh, the Indian foreign minister, said Pakistani authorities shouldn't have any difficulty finding them.

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