NEW DELHI, India - A senior Indian official said yesterday that a "promising process" had begun to diminish the military crisis with Pakistan and could lead to Indian responses to reduce tensions within days.
The official credited Pakistan's military ruler with ordering a halt to the infiltration of Islamic militants into Indian Kashmir - and said those orders are being obeyed. That begins to fulfill the most important condition India had set for stepping back from the brink of nuclear war.
A top State Department official who visited Pakistan and India last week agreed yesterday that tensions were being reduced. The official, Richard Armitage, the deputy secretary of state, traveled to Estonia to meet with Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld to brief him on the talks.
Armitage told reporters, "When you have close to a million men glaring, shouting and occasionally shooting across a territory that is a matter of some dispute, then I think you couldn't say the crisis is over." He added: "But I think you can say that the tensions are down measurably."
He said India might return some of its diplomats to Pakistan and might make "military gestures" to reflect the easing of tensions.
The Indian official, who spoke before Armitage made his remarks, said that in the next few days India will consider steps to bring down the tension, possibly by reversing diplomatic sanctions imposed on Pakistan in December or ratcheting down India's extensive military buildup.
Armitage suggested that India might redeploy some of its forces, at least in symbolic numbers at first. He said Pakistan had also pledged to take steps in coming days specifically designed to ease the crisis and rebuild trust.
Kashmiri militant groups acknowledged that they have been stymied in their efforts to send fighters into India after a stiff warning by the Pakistani government.
India is clearly pleased with assurances that Pakistan's military ruler, President Pervez Musharraf, gave to Armitage on Thursday. Musharraf pledged that Pakistan would permanently stop infiltration across the line that divides Kashmir between India and Pakistan, and by extension Pakistan's support for the insurgency that has bled India by a thousand cuts for more than a decade.
Armitage said his negotiations with India and Pakistan included discussions of creating a force to monitor the line of control in Kashmir, although "absolutely no determinations" were made on establishing such a mission. Consensus was still elusive, he said, on whether the patrols would be solely Indian and Pakistani, as India desires, or whether foreign militaries would participate, as Pakistan would prefer.
Armitage also said there had been discussions about sharing U.S. satellite surveillance with both sides in an effort to avoid miscalculation and war. But on that issue, as well, there has not been a decision, he said.
Armitage said Musharraf "was quite categorical about the fact that the activities across the line of control would be stopped permanently." He added, "He's quite keen, General Musharraf, in entering into a dialogue on the whole question of Kashmir." The Indian government, he said, "will be watching to see if the actions follow the words."
Until yesterday, no Indian official has acknowledged that Musharraf is following through on his promise to stop militants sneaking into Indian Kashmir or that infiltration levels are down significantly, as the State Department spokesman, Richard Boucher, said Friday.
But the Indian official said yesterday that India has, like the United States, reached "about the same assessment" that infiltration is down substantially. "We are finding that they have given the orders and the orders are being implemented," he said.
The official also disclosed that Armitage told India's senior leaders that Musharraf had indicated that he intended eventually to dismantle dozens of camps where thousands of militants have been trained to join the Islamic holy war against India in Kashmir and are now waiting for orders.
"The impression I got from Armitage is that Musharraf has some difficulty in this regard, that yes, he'll do it, but not immediately," he said.