India puts nuclear 'code' to Pakistan: Delhi plan would bind each side to attacking only strategic targets

INDIA has put forward fresh proposals to reduce the risk of nuclear war breaking out with its neighbour, Pakistan. The Indians have also offered to set up 'a line of peace and tranquility' along the disputed border running through the Himalayan region of Kashmir.

Pakistan has yet to respond formally to the Indian proposals, submitted on Monday by the Indian Foreign Secretary, J N Dixit, to the Pakistani High Commissioner in New Delhi. But in Islamabad, the Prime Minister, Benazir Bhutto, called for a nationwide strike on 5 February to denounce alleged atrocities by Indian security forces in Kashmir. Ms Bhutto will speak against these reported abuses at the UN Human Rights Commission in Geneva next week, much to India's fury.

Both India and Pakistan are thought to possess nuclear weapons, and Britain and the United States are worried that festering hostilities between the neighbours over Kashmir could erupt in a deadly conflict, killing millions of people.

The latest Indian proposal assures Pakistan that in the event of war, India will not unsheath its nuclear weapons first. If an atomic war did flare up, the proposals would bind each side to attacking only strategic targets.

The Indians also suggested opening a direct 'crisis' line between top Pakistani and Indian commanders to ensure the possibility that the frequent exchanges of artillery fire along their 420-mile border in Kashmir did not escalate into a major conflict. The white-hot point of hostility is atop the 14,500ft Siachen glacier, probably the highest battlefield in the world, where the Indian and Pakistani armies trade shots in the frozen air.

Now, India is offering to disengage, allowing both sides to step back and reduce troops on the glacier.

For Pakistan, Kashmir presents the main problem in the Indian proposals. India is seen as skating over the fact that Kashmir, the only predominately Muslim state in India, is now submerged in a war of secession. Some Kashmiri insurgents want to join Muslim Pakistan, while others want freedom for their Himalayan homeland.

The Indians now are trying to persuade Pakistan to accept the existing frontier without 'prejudice to the claims of either side'. The Indians also propose that Pakistan offer some 'verification measures' to help the Indian army stop Kashmiri guerrillas from infiltrating across the mountainous border. Publicly, Pakistan offers moral and humanitarian support to the Kashmiris in the Indian state , but India also accuses Pakistan of giving arms and training to the Muslim separatists.