U.S. welcomes Kashmir peace moves
WASHINGTON -- The United States has welcomed the recent easing of tensions between India and Pakistan as a "positive" sign but has warned the crisis over Kashmir is not yet over.
The comments came as Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld kicks off a widely anticipated visit to the subcontinent Tuesday, during which he is expected to spell out to the leaders of both countries the high risks of war.
Speaking to reporters in Washington Monday, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said there had been several positive signs that tensions between the two nuclear-armed rivals were easing.
These included conciliatory statements from both leaders, and India's announcement Monday that it was immediately lifting the six-month-old ban on Pakistani aircraft using Indian airspace.
However, Boucher said, "armies on both sides remain mobilized ... and both sides need to continue to seek to lower tension."
"U.S. diplomatic efforts are being coordinated with the international community in order to help diffuse tension between India and Pakistan," Boucher added. "The crisis, though showing signs of abating, is not yet over."
His comments were echoed by U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage who visited both India and Pakistan last week as part of international diplomatic efforts to pull the two countries back from war.
"I don't think when you have nearly a million men shouting and glaring and occasionally shooting across a disputed border that you can say the crisis has passed," he told America's PBS television. "But certainly tensions are down."
The Indian move to lift the ban on Pakistani aircraft came after assurances from Islamabad, reiterated during Armitage's visit to New Delhi, that Pakistan would halt incursions from Pakistani territory by Islamic militants.
India blames militants it says were trained and funded by Pakistan for carrying out December's deadly attack on parliament in New Delhi, as well as an attack last month on an Indian army camp in Kashmir. (Kashmir timeline.)
Pakistan has denied that any militants are crossing into the Indian side of Kashmir, and denies it supports them.
A senior diplomatic source in the Indian capital told CNN Monday that India would also move part of its naval fleet -- consisting of about five ships -- from the Arabian Sea near Pakistan to port in the western coastal city of Mumbai, formerly Bombay.
The source made no mention of a withdrawal of Indian troops, thought to number around 750,000, along the border with Pakistan and the Line of Control that divides the disputed territory of Kashmir. (Maps and military.)
Meanwhile India is also reported to be considering strengthening its diplomatic mission in Islamabad, after pulling its ambassador from there last December following the attack on parliament.
Between them India and Pakistan have amassed around a million troops along the international border and the Kashmir Line of Control.
In recent weeks there have been almost daily exchanges of fire between the two sides, although on Monday officials reported no clashes amid the general easing of tensions. (Full story.)
With such a large number of troops and heavy weaponry engaged in a tense stand-off, diplomats had feared that even a small clash could have led to an all-out war between the two nuclear powers, with potentially disastrous consequences for the subcontinent.
There are also concerns that another militant attack on the scale of the raid on parliament last December could have sparked a fierce backlash from India.
Last week the United States and Britain issued high-level travel warnings to their nationals, strongly urging them to leave both countries. (Full story.)
Several other governments have issued similar advisories.
As yet those travel warnings remain in place, with Boucher saying that for the time being the threat of conflict remains.
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