NEW DELHI, India – India's prime minister said Pakistan's promises — not American pressure on New Delhi — have prevented war between the South Asian rivals.
In an interview published Monday, Atal Bihari Vajpayee also indicated New Delhi has stepped back from the option of armed conflict with Pakistan after a six-month standoff involving a million troops along the border.
"India's victory without war has its own significance," Vajpayee told Dainik Jagran, a Hindi-language newspaper, on Saturday in his first detailed comments on the crisis.
"Not just America, but other nations, mainly Britain, Russia and France, put intense pressure on Pakistan that cross-border terrorism must end and Pakistan must follow the path of peace."
Pakistan has promised to crack down on Pakistan-based Islamic insurgents who carry out bombings and armed assaults on civilians and security forces in Indian-controlled Kashmir. The rebels are fighting for Kashmir's independence or merger with Muslim-majority Pakistan.
"If Pakistan had not agreed to end infiltration, and America had not conveyed that guarantee to India, then war would not have been averted," Vajpayee was quoted as saying.
Senior Indian defense ministry officials have credited intense U.S. diplomacy with averting war.
U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage said on June 8 that India was considering steps to reduce military tensions and "I got the very strong impression that they were inclined to respond to the international community."
"The belief that India gave up the option of war under American pressure is totally wrong," Vajpayee said. The government confirmed that his quotes were accurate.
On Monday, Islamabad said it would reciprocate if New Delhi pulled back forces from the border and stressed its desire for a meaningful dialogue to resolve the Kashmir dispute, the Associated Press of Pakistan reported, quoting Foreign Office spokesman Aziz Ahmad Khan. Asked to react, Indian foreign ministry spokeswoman Nirupama Rao reiterated Vajpayee's views.
In his interview, Vajpayee ruled out immediate withdrawal of troops from the border and played down prospects of a dialogue with Pakistan in the near future.
On the frontier between India and Pakistan, firing resumed overnight after a day of relative calm, the Indian army said.
Retaliatory firing by Indian troops in the frontier area of Dras destroyed four Pakistani bunkers. A bunker where kerosene oil was stored was set on fire, an army statement said.
Kashmir has been at the core of two of the three wars India and Pakistan have fought since their independence from Britain in 1947. More than 60,000 people have been killed in the 12-year insurgency.
The Indian prime minister said that his country was "ready for a nuclear war" but believed that Pakistan "would not indulge in such madness," the newspaper reported.
India has a stated policy of not using its nuclear weapons in a first strike. Pakistan, which has a much smaller army, has never matched that no-first-use pledge, raising concerns that a war between the hostile neighbors could go nuclear.
The forces now facing off are believed to represent the largest deployment since India and Pakistan fought their last war in 1971.
"There is no hurry to pull back the army from the border. For now, there is also no possibility of talks between the two nations," Vajpayee said. "Pakistan will first have to end infiltration and terrorism permanently."
Vajpayee said that there had been an unprecedented change in world public opinion over the Kashmir question.
"The world has for the first time said clearly that whatever is happening in Kashmir is not a freedom struggle, but the worst form of terrorism," Vajpayee said.