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Fresh bid to calm S. Asian crisis

India has withdrawn a fleet of five naval ships from the Arabian Sea near Pakistan
India has withdrawn a fleet of five naval ships from the Arabian Sea near Pakistan  

NEW DELHI, India (CNN) -- Tensions appear to be easing in South Asia as U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld arrives on the latest international peace mission to the region, but the crisis is far from over.

Rumsfeld will meet Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee today before leaving for Islamabad, where he is expected to meet Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf on Thursday.

The U.S. envoy told reporters he had "no single proposal" to help reduce hostilities between the two nations, saying he was visiting the region as a "friend" rather than as a "mediator".

But his visit coincides with a series of moves which suggests the sustained international diplomatic efforts are bearing fruit.

The latest Indian move involves the withdrawal of a fleet of five naval ships from the Arabian Sea near Pakistan to a port in the western coastal city of Mumbai.

CNN's Satinder Bindra reports on U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's visit to India
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But while analysts believe the threat of war is receding, Indian and Pakistani troops are expected to remain massed along the border between the two countries for many months.

Rumsfeld said that while recent comments from India and Pakistan had been positive, intelligence data appeared to suggest the situation on the ground had not improved as much as the public statements implied.

"What's important is what actually happens on the ground, as opposed to words, but words are helpful," he added.

President Musharraf meanwhile described the earlier Indian actions as a "very small beginning".

'Genuine steps'

"I am looking for more action," Musharraf told a news conference in Abu Dhabi, where he is on an official visit to the United Arab Emirates.

Musharraf added that Pakistan wanted "genuine steps" from India, and when questioned whether he was going to reciprocate, the Pakistani leader said, "Pakistan has done far more than its share in easing the tensions."

He said the risk of war still remained high.

Rumsfeld is the latest in a parade of Western diplomats to visit the region over the last three weeks.

U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw and E.U. foreign policy chief Javier Solana have all put pressure on India and Pakistan not to allow their dispute over Kashmir to escalate into war.

Rumsfeld's visit comes as officials in the U.S. gave their most positive assessment in weeks of the situation on the subcontinent.

Speaking in New York, Secretary of State Colin Powell said intensive international efforts -- involving the U.S., Russia, China the European Union and the United Nations -- were finally beginning to pay off, although the situation remained "very tense." (Full story.)

Positive signs

Meanwhile in Washington, State Department Spokesman Richard Boucher welcomed what he said were several positive signs that tensions between the two nuclear-armed rivals were easing.

He said these included conciliatory statements from both leaders, and India's announcement Monday that it was lifting the six-month-old ban on Pakistani aircraft using Indian airspace.

The lifting of the ban followed assurances from Islamabad, reiterated during Deputy Secretary of State Armitage's visit to New Delhi, that Pakistan would halt incursions from Pakistani territory by Islamic militants.

India blames militants it says that 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.

Pakistan has denied that any militants are crossing into the Indian side of Kashmir, and denies it supports them. (Kashmir timeline.)

Diplomatic appointment

Call for peace have been growing in both countries
Call for peace have been growing in both countries  

In other moves, India is also believed to have selected a new high commissioner to head its diplomatic mission in Pakistan, but hasn't yet sought the Pakistani government's approval for the appointment.

However, no mention has yet been made 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.

Pakistan, whose armed forces are far less in number, is thought to have deployed some 250,000 troops along its side. (Maps and military.)

Pakistan downplays moves

Islamabad has so far downplayed the significance of the lifting of the flight ban and other moves made by New Delhi, saying India was merely reversing its own decisions.

Referring to the flights and the possible resumption of full diplomatic ties with Pakistan, Information Secretary Anwar Mahmoud told CNN in a telephone interview Monday, "Those were unilateral decisions."

"It was their decision. They are just reversing them," said Mahmoud, who is traveling with Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

There was no indication that Pakistan would reciprocate by allowing its citizens to fly to India.


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