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Indian PM steps back from brink

Vajpayee is set to address the nation soon
Vajpayee is set to address the nation soon  


NEW DELHI/ISLAMABAD, India/Pakistan (CNN) -- In a televised address to the nation, India's prime minister has stepped back from the strong military posturing that has marked his stance on the disputed territory of Kashmir.

After conferring with security advisers in a session on Thursday, Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee almost totally skirted the issue of Kashmir, instead talking about elections in the state, one day after Islamabad vowed to suppress cross-frontier Islamic militants.

Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf is also expected to make a special address later in the day, after making a statement on Wednesday attempting to find some middle ground.

Vajpayee's speech followed intense firing along the Line of Control and across the international border between India and Pakistan into Thursday morning, the seventh day of cross border fighting between the two.

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Police and military sources in India said there has been sudden increase in fire from Pakistan, which they have reciprocated.

At least one soldier and one civilian -- a woman -- were killed and several others injured on the Indian side, while thousands are fleeing the border villages.

India has built up its military presence in the region with at least 700,000 troops now stationed in Kashmir.

Vajpayee told his troops Wednesday to prepare for decisive action in a fiery speech delivered to Indian forces deployed along the volatile Line of Control between the Pakistani- and Indian-administered regions of the Himalayan flashpoint.

For its part, the government of Pakistan has promised to defend the country "against any aggression or misadventure by India," but backed efforts to continue to work toward "defusing tension with India."

The assassination of a Kashmiri separatist Tuesday and an attack last week on an Indian army camp that killed more than 30 people has sparked a new round of accusations and counter-accusations between Pakistan and India, which blames Pakistan for cross-border terror attacks.

Pakistan's statement was released late Wednesday by the government after a joint session of the National Security Council and President Pervez Musharraf's Cabinet.

It was the first extensive statement in days from Pakistan, which has issued few remarks and has attempted to maintain a policy of restraint.

The statement -- which condemned terror and backed Kashmiri "self-determination" -- reaffirmed Musharraf's policy decisions announced earlier this year.

"The meeting particularly emphasized that the government will not allow the territory of Pakistan or any territory whose defense is the responsibility of Pakistan to be used for any terrorist activity anywhere in the world. It also reiterated that no organization in Pakistan will be allowed to indulge in terrorism in the name of Kashmir," the statement said.

"The meeting confirmed that Pakistan would continue to extend moral, political and diplomatic support to the legitimate struggle of the people of Jammu and Kashmir for the realization of their right to self-determination in accordance with the relevant U.N. resolutions."

The parties at the meeting agreed that differences over Kashmir should be resolved through "comprehensive dialogue" and "through bilateral negotiations or other peaceful means as provided in the U.N. Charter."

They urged the international community to "impress upon India the dangers inherent in the explosive situation created as a result of Indian belligerence and obduracy."

Military sources, meanwhile, confirmed to CNN that the Indian navy had moved five warships into positions off India's west coast near Pakistan.

In Pakistan, the air force has been moved into forward positions, and all other troops have been put on eight-hour notice in the event that a military conflict erupts. Musharraf has said troops will be redeployed from the western border with Afghanistan to the Indian border if necessary.

Pakistan also expressed concern over India's rhetoric and the Indian massing of troops along Pakistan's borders and the Line of Control.

"The ministers and the members of the National Security Council supported the government's policy to work for defusing tension with India while remaining fully prepared and vigilant to meet any contingency resolutely and with full force."

Assassination

The council and the cabinet strongly condemned the Tuesday assassination of Abdul Ghani Lone, a moderate separatist leader in Kashmir.

Lone, considered a moderate in the search for a solution to the five-decade Kashmir problem, was shot down by a pair of gunmen dressed as policemen as he addressed a rally -- commemorating the assassination 12 years ago of another Kashmiri leader -- in Srinagar.

Thousands of supporters in Indian Kashmir attended his funeral procession Wednesday.

But Vajpayee -- who is in the middle of a three-day trip to Kashmir, his first visit there in two years -- boasted that "world opinion" is on the side of India in the decades-old conflict over Kashmir.

"But they are not saying so openly," the prime minister said.

"We will have to defend ourselves on our own and we are prepared for this. ... We must be prepared for sacrifices. Our goal is victory. It's time to wage a decisive battle. ... Our troops have to be ready for conclusive and final battle."

He addressed the troops gathered in Kupwara, about 90 km (55 miles) northwest of Srinagar, Indian-administered Kashmir's summer capital, and very near the Line of Control.

Vajpayee told his assembled troops that India had been the victim of terrorism since Pakistani independence more than five decades ago, and noted that India had defeated Pakistan in war three times in the past -- two of those conflicts over Kashmir.

Situation 'fragile'

Nirupama Rao, the Indian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, said "Pakistan's current approach towards India and its reliance on violence and terrorism is unacceptable."

Sonia Gandhi, head of the main opposition group, the Congress Party, said the government needs to do more on the diplomatic front to deal with the "fragile" and "fluid" situation.

Troubled by the escalating tensions between the nuclear neighbors, U.S. and British officials quickly urged immediate action to head off a full-blown conflict.

"The possibility of war between India and Pakistan is very real and very disturbing, a crisis the world cannot ignore," said British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw.

The Bush administration announced that it would dispatch Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage to the region, and urged both sides to begin a dialogue promptly.

-- CNN Correspondents Ash-har Quraishi, Kasra Naji, Satinder Bindra and Kamal Hyder contributed to this report



 
 
 
 






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