ISLAMABAD, Pakistan – President Gen. Pervez Musharraf said Monday that Pakistan would not initiate war over the disputed province of Kashmir, but he stopped short of promising a further crackdown on Islamic militants in a speech unlikely to mollify either India or the international community.
"We do not want war. Pakistan will not be the one to initiate war. We want peace in the region," Musharraf said.
In a nationally televised address that focused largely on heightened tensions with neighboring India, Musharraf said Pakistan would not fire the first shot, "but if war is thrust upon us, every Muslim is bound to respond in kind" and would "fight to the last drop of blood."
The speech contained no new initiatives and was unlikely to ease tensions.
A million troops are deployed on both sides of the "line of control" frontier in Kashmir, and Pakistan ratcheted up the pressure over the weekend with two missile tests that it claimed were unrelated to the current dispute. India has blamed Pakistani-backed extremists for two major attacks over the past five months.
Musharraf's speech appeared to be aimed mostly at his domestic audience and the international community, which has grown increasingly concerned that cross-border shelling and small arms fire could turn into an all-out war between the nuclear-armed nations.
The Indian army said Monday it has killed or wounded 230 Pakistani soldiers over the past 10 days in Kashmir. Pakistan's military said it killed 40 Indian soldiers on Sunday alone and that Indian shelling killed nine civilians and injured 25 on the Pakistani side Monday, when the two countries exchanged heavy mortar, artillery and machine-gun fire.
As a key ally in the U.S.-led war on terrorism, Musharraf is walking a fine line as he tries to rein in Muslim extremists without alienating the army by backing down on support for Kashmir's independence movement.
Wearing his khaki military uniform, Musharraf said Pakistan has taken "bold steps" on Kashmir, referring to a Jan. 12 speech in which he banned five Islamic militant groups.
About half of the 2,000 people arrested in an ensuing crackdown remain in custody, but President Bush, British Prime Minister Tony Blair and other world leaders have told Musharraf that he should do more to prevent cross-border incursions into Indian territory for terrorism. Musharraf has said his country cannot be held responsible every time someone in Kashmir attacks Indian troops.
Pakistan has denied Indian charges that it supports the Islamic extremists with money and arms, but says it does give the "moral" support for Kashmir's independence efforts, which Musharraf said will never change. He claimed his crackdown had ended any infiltration into India from Pakistani territory.
"Unfortunately we have not seen any positive response from the Indian side. I urge the world community to ask India to move toward normalization of relations," he said, interrupting his Urdu-language speech with a section in English that clearly was directed at the international community.
Musharraf offered a formula for peace, calling for a de-escalation of tensions on the border, initiation of a process of dialogue, cessation of "atrocities" by India in Kashmir and permission for international media and aid organizations to enter the region and see the situation on the ground.
Omer Abdullah, India's junior foreign minister, told Associated Press Television News after the speech that India and Pakistan had nothing to discuss.
"What will we talk about? There is nothing to talk about. Pakistan knows what we want. Pakistan knows what we expect and Pakistan knows what we are capable of doing to get what we want. It is as simple as that," Abdullah said.
"It is for Pakistan to dismantle its machine of terrorism, it is for Pakistan to stop cross-border infiltration, it is for Pakistan to hand over people on the list of 20 given to Pakistan," Abdullah said, referring to a list of people that India wants Pakistan to arrest. "Then we will de-escalate."
India blamed Pakistani-supported extremists for a deadly attack on its parliament in December. Tensions over that incident had been ebbing when Islamic militants staged an assault two weeks ago on an Indian army camp in Kashmir that killed 34 people, mostly women and children.
Musharraf said the same people who carried out those assaults, which he called terrorist attacks, also had hit Pakistan, attacking a church frequented by foreigners and a bus carrying French engineers helping the Pakistan navy build a submarine.
"Whoever is involved in this kind of activity is also interested in destabilizing Pakistan," Musharraf said. The attacks are being carried out by people who "want to raise tensions as much as possible."
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Anatoly Safonov arrived Monday in Islamabad to carry an invitation from Russian President Vladimir Putin to mediate one-on-one talks between Musharraf and Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee next month in Kazakhstan, where the two leaders are scheduled to attend a meeting of the Council on Cooperation and Confidence Measures in Asia.
Pakistan has already accepted the invitation, agreeing to talk to Vajpayee "anywhere, anytime." India has said it will not hold talks until cross-border attacks stop.
Blair called both leaders for about 15 minutes Monday. His foreign secretary, Jack Straw, who was flying to Pakistan late Monday, played down expectations of what outside diplomacy could achieve.
"I think that it's important that everybody understands, above all the parties, what could be the consequences if military action started and gets out of control," Straw said at a news conference in Berlin.