Pakistan's president, stopping short of matching India's pledge not to use nuclear weapons first, said Saturday "any sane individual" would not allow tensions between the two nations to escalate into a nuclear war.
However, the growing fear of a wider conflict between the nations prompted the United Nations on Saturday to tell its staffers in the region to send their families home. France, Israel and South Korea joined the list of nations advising their citizens to leave the region as the South Asian neighbors continued shelling each other along their border, killing at least eight people.
In an interview with CNN, Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf said nuclear conflict was unthinkable. He also restated his willingness to negotiate with India.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has offered to mediate during next week's regional summit in Kazakhstan, which is to be attended by Musharraf and Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee.
India's defense minister said Saturday there was no sign of a reconciliation with Pakistan. India has demanded that Pakistan first stop cross-border incursions by Islamic militants blamed by New Delhi for two major terrorist attacks over the last six months.
Musharraf told CNN that Pakistan has called for a no-war pact with India and the denuclearization of South Asia. He was asked about the possibility that the current situation could escalate into nuclear war.
"I don't think either side is that irresponsible to go to that limit," Musharraf said. "I would even go to the extent of saying one shouldn't even be discussing these things, because any sane individual cannot even think of going into this unconventional war, whatever the pressures."
Concern about Pakistan using nuclear weapons stems from the fact that Pakistan has a much smaller military than India. India has a policy of not using nuclear weapons first in a conflict.
But concern still mounted about a broader military conflict as neither country offered a diplomatic solution to end their long dispute over the Himalayan region of Kashmir, the spark for two of their three wars. Both countries claim the region in its entirety.
Asked if military officials of the two countries might meet, Indian Defense Minister George Fernandes said: "I don't think there is any such possibility." He made the comment while attending a regional security conference in Singapore.
The recent terror attacks ratcheted up tensions over Kashmir and has led to the deployment of more than 1 million troops along the border.
Cross-border shelling Saturday killed three civilians in India and two in Pakistan, according to official reports.
A grenade attack by suspected Islamic militants also killed a 14-year-old boy and injured 16 people, including two soldiers, in Srinagar, the summer capital of India's Jammu-Kashmir state, while a gunfight between Indian paramilitary forces and guerrillas in Nihalpora, some 22 miles to the north, killed one militant and a teen-age boy caught in the cross fire, Indian officials said.
The United Nations said Saturday its Pakistan and India staffs have been ordered to send their families home in the next few days. The order covers 260 dependents in India and several hundred more in Pakistan.
"This is not a product of any assessment that the situation is getting more dangerous by the minute, but an attempt to deal with the potential situation before it develops," U.N. spokesman Feodor Starcevik said in New Delhi.
The United States and Britain are among the countries that have already advised their citizens to leave India.
"The fact that both of these countries possess nuclear weapons is part of our thinking," State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said Friday in Washington.
Pakistan and India routinely trade tit-for-tat charges and actions and accuse each other of spying. On Saturday, Pakistan detained an Indian embassy worker for receiving sensitive documents. A day earlier, India detained a Pakistani High Commission employee for allegedly taking classified defense documents from a retired Indian air force official.
India accuses Pakistan of supporting Islamic militant groups who are waging a 12-year insurgency in Indian Kashmir, demanding independence or merger with Pakistan. The Indian part of Kashmir is the country's only Muslim-majority state. At least 60,000 people have died in all of Kashmir since 1989.
Pakistan says it offers only moral and diplomatic support for the insurgents and does not back terrorist attacks.
Last week, Musharraf claimed cross-border incursions by Pakistan-based Islamic militants had ended.
He told CNN his country is "against militancy" and "will fight militancy in any form" but said Kashmiri separatists are engaged in "a genuine freedom struggle" to force the implementation of a U.N. resolution calling for the right of self-determination.
The Indian army said 21 Kashmiri militants of the Hezb-ul Mujahedeen, or Party of Holy Warriors, surrendered in a growing split between Kashmiri and Pakistani members of the group. The Pakistan-based group's commander in Indian Kashmir, Abdul Majid Dar, was ousted after saying he favored negotiations with India.
Pakistan has moved some troops away from the Afghan border, where they are helping U.S. forces in the campaign to flush out al-Qaida and Taliban militants. Islamabad is considering redeploying the soldiers to the Indian frontier.
(China Daily June 3, 2002)