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Pakistan won't rule out nuclear option

An Indian soldier during a training session near the border with Pakistan  

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (CNN) -- Pakistan has repeated assurances it will not initiate a conflict with India, but has refused to rule out using nuclear weapons should hostilities escalate.

"All I can do is to give my own assurance that we will try to avoid conflict. It will be my utmost endeavor to avoid conflict," Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf told CNN Thursday.

The statement comes amid U.S. reports that India has started work to prepare for the loading of conventional warheads along front line positions on some of its medium range missiles which can also carry nuclear warheads (AUDIO).

Calling the Indian move a "dangerous" escalation, U.S. officials say it increases the risk of miscalculation, since if one of the missiles was fired, the Pakistanis would not know which kind of warhead was headed their way.

The officials also cite other, undisclosed, signs they interpret as "alarming" regarding the India-Pakistan military buildup.

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Pakistan has itself just finished a week of high-profile testing of its missile capabilities.

While the threat of a broader military conflict is not abating, the United States has dispatched Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to South Asia in a further bid to defuse tensions.

India regularly informs the United States through diplomatic channels that it intends to go to war over Kashmir if attacks by extremists are not curtailed, a senior U.S. official told The Associated Press.

But India has not advised the Bush administration how it would conduct such a conflict, said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity.

U.S. President George W. Bush announced Rumsfeld's trip at a Cabinet meeting Thursday, after Musharraf announced he was considering moving troops massed on the country's western border with Afghanistan to its eastern borders with India. (Full story)

"We are making it very clear to both Pakistan and India that war will not serve their interests. And we're a part of an international coalition applying pressure to both parties, particularly to President Musharraf," Bush said.

"He must stop the incursions across the Line of Control. He must do so. He said he would do so. We and others are making it clear to him that he must live up to his word."

Meanwhile, Pakistan's ambassador to the United Nations repeated his country's long-stated position that it would not sign a no-first-use policy on nuclear arms.

"India should not have the license to kill with conventional weapons while our hands are tied," by removing the first-use option, Ambassaor Munir Akram said at United Nations headquarters.

Indian Defense Minister George Fernandes slammed the nuclear statement, labelling it "loose talk".

He said Islamabad was prepared to stoop to any depth to capitalize on the so-called "nuclear scare."

International diplomats have been making an effort to bring India and Pakistan away from the brink of war and back to the negotiating table.

Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage also is going to the region next week, and British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw met with Indian and Pakistani officials this week.

U.S. military officials, along with representatives of U.S. embassies in both countries, are drawing up plans for the possible evacuation of Americans from both India and Pakistan. (Full story)

Meanwhile, Musharraf said Thursday his country was "very seriously contemplating on moving" troops east if tensions between Pakistan and India over the disputed Kashmir region continued to boil.

Musharraf said Pakistan's "first priority is its own security" and that if "we are subjected to aggression ... certainly all our resources will confront the area or the points where the security" is being threatened.

"This is where the shifting of forces from the west to the east comes in."

The country's information minister confirmed Musharraf's statement. Earlier Thursday, Pakistan's presidential spokesman told CNN Thursday troops will be deployed from the west to the east.

The reinforcements will be along the Line of Control in Kashmir, the international border and the working boundary with India. There are already hundreds of thousands of Indian and Pakistan troops massed along border areas (MAP: The Line of Control).

Pakistani military sources say that the Pakistani air force has moved into forward positions and that troops along the border have been moved into "final positions" in preparation for any military confrontation.

Earlier this month, an army camp in the Indian-administered part of Kashmir was attacked, with more than 30 people killed. India blamed the incident on Pakistani-based Kashmiri separatists.

Since then, troops have skirmished daily across the Line of Control dividing the Indian and Pakistani-administered sections of Kashmir as India has continued to point its finger at Pakistan.

-- CNN correspondents Ash-Har Quraishi, Kasra Naji and David Ensor contributed to this report


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