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Fresh bid to defuse S. Asian timebomb

Indian and Pakistani border guards eye-off each other at the joint frontier post of Wagah
Indian and Pakistani border guards eye-off each other at the joint frontier post of Wagah  

NEW DELHI, India (CNN) – Top U.S. envoy Richard Armitage has arrived New Delhi from Pakistan in a bid to prevent another war erupting between India and Pakistan.

Arriving from Islamabad, Pakistan, where he met with President Gen. Pervez Musharraf, the U.S. Deputy Secretary of State was heading straight into talks with Indian Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh, Associated Press reports.

He was expected to meet Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and other senior Indian officials later Friday.

Armitage's visit is the latest in a concerted international effort, by countries including Russia, China and the United Kingdom, to defuse tensions between the nuclear-capable neighbors.

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His mission will be followed up by U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld next week who is expected to spell out bluntly to both sides the risks entailed of a war. (Full story)

U.S. President George W. Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke on the phone for 20 minutes on Thursday on subjects that included developments on the subcontinent.

In a written statement, White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer said the two presidents "agreed to continue mutual efforts to de-escalate tensions between India and Pakistan."

Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf, meanwhile, has assured Armitage he is seeking a peaceful resolution to the dispute with India, stressing he does not want war.

"President Musharraf has made it very clear that he is searching for peace and he won't be the one to initiate a war," Armitage told reporters. "I will be hopefully getting the same type of assurances tomorrow in Delhi," he added.

India's Deputy Foreign Minister, Omar Abdullah, told CNN that his nation, too, is doing everything it can to avoid a military confrontation with Pakistan.

"If we were looking for an out-and-out military conflict, we would have exercised it immediately after the attack on our parliament in December," he said from Srinagar, the summer capital of Indian-administered Kashmir.

"We continue to explore all the diplomatic options available for us bilaterally as well as to work with the international community."

But Abdullah said Prime Minister Vajpayee's government is under tremendous pressure from the Indian public for "a strong military response."

On Wednesday Bush telephoned Musharraf and Vajpayee, "urging them to take steps that will ease tensions ... and reduce the risk of war" a spokesman said.

Japan, meanwhile, says it will charter a commercial plane soon to help to evacuate Japanese nationals from India. The aircraft would be sent to India as early as Monday because commercial flights from India were fully booked. (Full story)

Both the United States and Britain upped travel advisories Thursday, urging their citizens to leave both India and Pakistan at the earliest opportunity. Previous warnings had urged nationals to "consider leaving." (Full story)

Trading blame

Between them India and Pakistan have massed about a million troops along their border and the Kashmiri Line of Control, which divides the disputed region between them.

India accuses Pakistan of funding, arming and training Islamic militant groups it blames for a series of attacks in Indian administered Kashmir and a deadly attack on the Indian parliament last December.

Pakistan has denied the Indian charges saying it only gives moral support to groups waging what it calls a "liberation struggle" for the people of Kashmir.(A tense few weeks)

On Wednesday Vajpayee raised the possibility of joint patrols by Indian and Pakistani forces along the Line of Control as way of preventing militant incursions into Indian territory.

The proposal was rebuffed by Pakistani officials who described the suggestion as "nothing new" and "unlikely to work," given the tense state of relations.

Pakistan maintains there is no infiltration across the Line of Control and has called for independent observers, such as United Nations monitors, to be allowed to verify this.

Vajpayee later elaborated on his comments, saying there were "many proposals for verification, of which joint patrolling is one."


Both the Indian and Pakistani leaders were in Kazakhstan earlier this week for a regional security summit.

But despite both men being in the same room -- often sitting at the same table even -- diplomatic efforts headed by China and Russia to get them talking came to nothing.

The tense stand-off has raised international fears of a possible nuclear war developing from the dispute over the Himalayan region, which already has sparked two wars between Pakistan and India. (Kashmir history)

An Indian soldier warily watches the Line of Control
An Indian soldier warily watches the Line of Control  

In Kashmir itself, exchanges of fire continued Thursday with reports of heavy shelling across the Line or Control near Gurez about 100 kilometers north of Srinagar, the summer capital of Indian-administered Kashmir. (Maps and military)

Overnight two Indian soldiers were killed when suspected Islamic militants staged an ambush in southern Kashmir, Indian military sources said.

The sources told CNN the soldiers were members of the 44 Rashtrya Rifles, a special counter-insurgency unit.

Meanwhile officials have also reported another attack by suspected militants on a police patrol in Srinagar district Wednesday night. No one was wounded in the attack.

-- CNN Correspondents Tom Mintier in Islamabad, Martin Savidge in Srinagar and Barbara Starr in Brussels contributed to this report


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