ALMATY, Kazakhstan The leaders of India and Pakistan angrily blamed each other for more than five decades of conflict, exchanging stony stares across a table Tuesday while their troops fired at each other in the disputed Kashmir region.
Russia and China pressed the nuclear-armed neighbors to enter face-to-face talks to prevent the Kashmir conflict from exploding into a full-scale war. But the tone of the Pakistani and Indian leaders' remarks during a 2½-hour session at an Asian security summit made dialogue appear even more remote.
Meanwhile, sporadic gunfire and shelling was reported in Kashmir, where the rivals have deployed about 1 million troops along both sides of the 1,800-mile frontier. There were no immediate reports of casualties, although police said suspected Islamic militants killed two civilians in India's portion of Kashmir. Eight civilians died in shelling Monday.
"We do not want war. If war is imposed on us, we will defend ourselves with the utmost resolution," Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf said, sitting about 15 feet across from the Indian leader at a U-shaped table in the Kazakh city of Almaty.
"The people of South Asia continue to pay a heavy price for the refusal by India to resolve the Kashmir dispute in accordance with resolutions of the United Nations and the wishes of the Kashmiri people," he said.
India's Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee rejected Musharraf's repeated assurances that Pakistan would not allow its territory to be used by terrorists. He said there had been no decrease in violence or infiltration by Pakistan-based Islamic militants into the Indian-controlled part of Kashmir since Musharraf's speech in January, when he promised to take action against the groups.
"We have seen in the following months that cross-border infiltration has increased, violence in Jammu and Kashmir has continued unabated and terrorist camps continue to operate unhindered across our borders," Vajpayee said.
Vajpayee repeated an earlier statement that India was willing to hold talks with Pakistan once the cross-border terrorism ends. He also reminded the delegates that India has ruled out using nuclear weapons first in any conflict.
"Nuclear powers should not use nuclear blackmail," Vajpayee said. India has a policy of no first use of nuclear weapons in a conflict, but Pakistan, weaker in conventional arms and army size, has made no such vow.
The two leaders listened to each other speak with pursed lips and stony stares. With the 14 other delegates, they signed a declaration condemning "all forms and manifestations of terrorism" and promising "to strengthen cooperation and dialogue."
When the session ended, Vajpayee and Musharraf remained at opposite sides of the room and did not interact.
Vajpayee and Musharraf were meeting separately with several leaders at the summit, including Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Jiang Zemin.
"We cannot but be concerned about the explosive situation in the relations between Pakistan and India, which threatens to destabilize the situation in the whole Eurasian continent," Putin said Tuesday, adding that world leaders would make every effort to defuse the crisis.
He then tried to put a positive spin on the acerbic Musharraf-Vajpayee exchange.
"In the speeches of both leaders we can hear a readiness for dialogue," Putin said. India had repeated its policy of no first use of nuclear weapons, he said, while Musharraf has "said on the territory of Pakistan there won't be militants. This is what the whole world eagerly awaited from the two leaders."
Putin said he relayed concerns over Kashmir to the leaders. While he seemed more comfortable during talks with Vajpayee, Putin said he stressed that "we proceed from the assumption that one must do whatever it takes" to settle the conflict and that to that end Musharraf had sent "a series of serious and positive signals" during their talks. Putin did not elaborate.
Jiang urged those involved in regional conflicts to settle "their disputes peacefully without delay."
India says Islamic militants crossing the frontier from Pakistan have carried out terror attacks, including a deadly assault on the Indian Parliament in December and on an Indian army base in Kashmir last month, which left 34 dead, mostly wives and children of army officers.
Musharraf said Monday he was ready for "unconditional talks" with Vajpayee. The Indian leader insists that before any talks take place, he must see proof that Pakistan has withdrawn support from Islamic militants who have fought a 12-year insurgency for the independence of India's portion of Kashmir, or its merger with Pakistan.
Pakistani Information Minister Nisar Memon said Monday the militants had not come from his nation's part of Kashmir and said his country had stepped up monitoring of the Line of Control, the 1972 cease-fire line that divides the Himalayan region between India and Pakistan. Both nations claim Kashmir in its entirety; it has been the focus of two of the three wars fought between them since their independence from Britain in 1947.
Secretary of State Colin Powell said he had encouraged Musharraf this weekend to "restrain all activity across the Line of Control." Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld is expected in the region this weekend, and Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage is due to visit both nations this week.
Trying to quell international alarm about a possible nuclear war, the Indian Defense Ministry said Monday that India "does not believe in 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.
© 2002 The Associated Press