Pakistan seeks to ease India tensions

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The Independent Online

Pakistan's army chief stressed yesterday the need to avoid conflict with India, days after he ordered troops toward the rivals' shared border amid tensions following last month's terror attacks on Mumbai.

General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani made the remarks to a top Chinese diplomat who was visiting Islamabad to try and ease the situation between nuclear-armed Pakistan and India.

Kayani's remarks were believed to be his first about the tensions with Pakistan's traditional rival and could help reassure a jittery region that the country does not intend to escalate the crisis further.

On Friday, Pakistani intelligence officials said thousands of troops were being shifted toward the Indian border, though there has been no sign yet of a major build up at the frontier.

Without referring specifically to the situation, Kayani told Chinese Vice Foreign Minister He Yafei of the "need to de-escalate and avoid conflict in the interest of peace and security," a brief army statement said.

India blames Pakistani militants for the slaughter of 164 people in its commercial capital and has not ruled out the use of force in its response. Pakistan's civilian leaders have said they do not want war, but will retaliate if attacked.

China is an important Pakistani ally and neighbors it and India.

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called Indian Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee on Christmas Day and Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari on Sunday, according to State Department spokesman Gordon Duguid.

Asked about Pakistan's troop movements, Duguid said Monday: "The United States has called for both sides not take any actions that would increase tension. We are looking for both sides to find cooperative actions to fight terrorism."

Yafei met with Pakistan's president and prime minister as well as Kayani. Dawn TV station reported he intended to fly on to India, but that could not be immediately confirmed.

Yafei said he hoped Pakistan and India would resolve the conflict through dialogue, according to Pakistan's foreign ministry.

"Conflict is not the solution of the problem as it will only strengthen the hands of terrorists and extremists," he was quoted as saying.