ALMATY, Kazakhstan – As the presidents of Russia and China prepared to plunge into the international effort to head off war, India and Pakistan refused to budge on Kashmir, both insisting Monday that they were fighting terrorism.
Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf met separately with Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev on the eve of an Asian security conference dominated by efforts to bring the two nuclear-armed nations into face-to-face talks, which Vajpayee has so far rejected.
Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Jiang Zemin were scheduled to meet separately, but nearly simultaneously, with Musharraf and Vajpayee on Tuesday, ensuring that even if India and Pakistan refuse one-on-one talks, their messages will be delivered through intermediaries. Putin arrived in Kazakhstan early Tuesday.
The mediation attempts appeared to be coordinated among the United States, Russia and China. When Putin extended his invitation to the two leaders to talk in Almaty, President Bush was at his side.
NATO leaders also took the unusual step of appointing Putin as the envoy to convey the alliance's concerns about war to Musharraf and Vajpayee.
Meanwhile, violence continued in Kashmir on Monday. At least eight civilians were killed and 23 injured as Indian and Pakistani troops exchanged heavy artillery and machine-gun fire along their frontier.
Also, Norway on Monday advised its citizens against traveling to India and Pakistan because of the tensions. Similar warnings have been issued by the United States, at least 12 other countries and the United Nations.
After arriving in the Kazakh capital for the Conference on Interaction and Confidence-Building Measures in Asia, Musharraf reiterated his readiness to meet with Vajpayee.
Asked by reporters about his conditions for such talks, Musharraf said, "You need to ask this question of Prime Minister Vajpayee. What are his conditions? I don't have any conditions."
But Vajpayee so far has refused to give ground, demanding that he first see proof that Pakistan has withdrawn support from Islamic militants and stopped their cross-border incursions into India's portion of Kashmir.
"We've decided at this point in time it would not be possible for anyone in the Indian government to have dialogue with anyone in the Pakistani delegation," Omar Abdullah, the deputy Indian foreign minister, said Monday in Almaty.
Secretary of State Colin Powell, meanwhile, said he encouraged Musharraf this weekend to "restrain all activity across the Line of Control."
"When that takes place in a way that is obvious, ... then we would call upon India to take de-escalatory steps," Powell said Monday in Barbados. He added, "I'm pleased that both sides in the last several days have once again discussed the non-use of nuclear weapons."
In an American bid to defuse tensions, Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld is expected in the region this weekend and Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage is due in Pakistan on Thursday and India on Friday.
Without mentioning Pakistan by name, Vajpayee said he agreed with Nazarbayev on how to combat terrorism in South Asia, which he blamed on "cross-border infiltrations." However, he did not elaborate other than to express "faith that there would be no encouragement to those elements who believe in terrorism or religious extremism."
India says Islamic militants crossing the frontier from Pakistan have carried out terror attacks, including deadly assaults on the Indian Parliament in December and an Indian army base in Kashmir last month. The latter left 34 dead, mostly wives and children of army officers.
But Pakistani Information Minister Nisar Memon insisted Monday that the militants had not come from his nation's part of Kashmir.
"We deny any such camps to be there and that there is any action against India, cross-border terrorism. We have increased our own vigilance on the Line of Control," he said, referring to a 1972 cease-fire line dividing the Himalayan region between India and Pakistan. Both nations claim all of Kashmir, and have fought two wars over the dispute.
"We will not tolerate any acts of violence against India. We will not allow our soil to be used for terrorist activities against any other country," Memon said, noting that Pakistan, too, had suffered from terrorism.
Foreign leaders pressed the Indian and Pakistani leaders to tone down their warring rhetoric and meet in Almaty.
Russia has been a close ally of India since the Soviet era but has had a troubled relationship with Pakistan — accusing it a few years ago of aiding Chechen rebels. That background came to the fore again Monday as Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov assailed Islamabad's alleged aid to terrorists.
The Indian Defense Ministry tried to calm international concern about the danger that the conflict could erupt into nuclear war.
"The government makes it clear that India does not believe in the use of nuclear weapons. Neither does it visualize that it will be used by any other country," the ministry said in a statement released Monday in New Delhi. "India categorically rules out the use of nuclear weapons."
Speaking on Russia's state-run RTR television Monday night, Musharraf said his country's nuclear arsenal was in safe hands.
"Let me assure the whole world that our nuclear assets are in extremely safe hands and there is no vulnerability of these at all," he said.