Pakistan Plays Down War Fear -
More Die In Kashmir

By Sanjeev Miglani and Simon Denyer

NEW DELHI/ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - Unidentified gunmen massacred a Muslim family, including eight children, in troubled Indian Kashmir Monday as Pakistan played down fears of war with India over the disputed region.
Dozens of people, including civilians, have died in the almost daily violence which has racked the Himalayan area since the latest row erupted between nuclear-armed India and Pakistan over anti-Indian Kashmiri separatists based in Pakistan.
Indian police said gunmen burst into the family's house in Kashmir's Poonch district, bordering Pakistan and shot dead eight children aged between two and 12, along with two women and a man.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility by any of the Islamic groups fighting Indian rule in the mainly Hindu nation's only Muslim-majority state.
As both sides struggle to defuse the crisis, Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf said in an interview with Newsweek magazine that war was unlikely but not impossible after a lessening of military and diplomatic tensions.
About a million troops are massed on the border, stoking fears of a fourth war between India and Pakistan, and a third over Kashmir, since their independence from Britain in 1947.
But Musharraf said there were reasons for optimism.
``India has downgraded their air-reaction forces,'' Newsweek quoted him saying in an interview dated Jan. 18. ``And some (ground) forces that would give them full potential for an offensive, they have not (been deployed).
``Let me assure you from a military point of view, from a diplomatic-political point of view, I don't think there can be war -- unless there's some mad action, but that's always a possibility.''
Secretary of State Colin Powell visited both countries last week in a bid to ease tension which has built up since a Dec. 13 attack on India's parliament which New Delhi blames on Pakistani-backed Kashmiri separatists.
Powell ended his trip saying he believed the two countries were ready to try to avert war, although India says it will not withdraw troops from the border until Pakistan delivers on a pledge to curb Islamic militant groups.
India says Pakistan is sponsoring ``cross-border terrorism'' to undermine its rule in Kashmir, while Pakistan accuses India of repressing Kashmir's mainly Muslim people.
Pakistan has banned five militant groups and rounded up 2,000 people, but India says that is not yet enough.
``It hasn't yet translated itself on the ground,'' Indian Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh said, noting that in a democracy it would take two to three governments to implement reforms as big as those promised by Pakistan's military dictator.
In the Newsweek interview, Musharraf called the dispute over Kashmir ``one of the most serious conflicts in the world'' and agreed there was a risk of nuclear war in the region as a result.
``This dispute has been going on for almost 50 years. Both countries being nuclear-capable, certainly one realizes this must be dangerous,'' he told Newsweek. ``That's why I keep saying we must resolve this core issue, otherwise this danger remains.''
But Singh told a seminar the notion Kashmir should move to Pakistan simply because it was mainly Muslim made no sense since it would imply that all India's other Muslim areas should also be incorporated into Pakistan.
``Do I put them on a railway track and transfer them to west Pakistan?'' he asked, adding Kashmir could just as easily be handed to Muslim Bangladesh, which was once East Pakistan.
But Musharraf expressed optimism a solution to the dispute could be found.
``Both groups have to show realism and flexibility and reach a solution, there's no doubt in my mind we can reach a solution.''

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