KATMANDU, Nepal -- Pakistan's president shook hands with India's leader Saturday and called for "a journey of peace" by the rival nations, whose armies are on alert. India's prime minister responded by pressing his demand that Pakistan crack down on militants based on its soil.
"I extend a hand of genuine and sincere friendship to Prime Minister Vajpayee," Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf said in a speech at a South Asian summit meeting in Nepal. "Let us together commence a journey of peace, harmony and progress in South Asia."
Stepping down from the podium, Musharraf walked over and offered his hand to Indian Prime Minister Atal Vajpayee, who appeared surprised but stood up and shook it with a faint smile -- the first public handshake between the leaders of the nuclear-armed neighbors during the summit.
Musharraf's call for peace came with tensions high between India and Pakistan following a deadly Dec. 13 suicide attack on the Indian Parliament. Indian officials accused two Pakistan-based militant groups and alleged they had support from Pakistan's intelligence service -- a charge Islamabad denies.
Since the attack, which killed 14 people including the five assailants, India and Pakistan have amassed thousands of troops along their 1,100-mile border; cut off airspace rights; slashed their embassy staffs and severed air, train and bus service.
The leaders have not held talks since a June summit that ended in acrimony. There were no indications they would meet separately during the Nepal summit of seven South Asian nations; Vajpayee met earlier with the other five leaders, but not with Musharraf.
In his own speech, Vajpayee responded coolly to Musharraf's gesture, saying he had offered friendship to Pakistan in the past but was answered with deadly violence by Islamic militant groups that India says Pakistan's government supports.
"I am glad that Gen. Musharraf extended a hand of friendship to me," Vajpayee told the summit delegates. "I have shaken his hand in your presence.
"Now, President Musharraf must follow the gesture by not permitting any activity in Pakistan or any territory in its control today which enables terrorists to perpetuate mindless violence in India," he said.
In an indication of the bitter differences that divide the two nations, Musharraf said the global campaign against terrorism must maintain a distinction between "legitimate resistances and freedom struggles on the one hand, and acts of terrorism on the other."
Musharraf has repeatedly used the term freedom fighters to describe the Islamic militants who stage attacks in India's portion of Kashmir, the only mostly Muslim province in Hindu-majority India. Vajpayee calls them terrorists.
Vajpayee called on Pakistan to abide by a recent U.N. resolution that prohibits any active or passive support of such groups, and he dismissed Musharraf's contention that governments need to address economic and social reasons for the despair that leads to violence.
"Terrorism uses different religious, territorial, economic and ethnic justifications in different countries," Vajpayee said.
During a visit to India on Saturday, British Prime Minister Tony Blair drew on the language he used to condemn the attacks on the World Trade Center, expressing "total solidarity" with India in its outrage over the Parliament attack and a deadly Oct. 1 raid on the Kashmir legislature.
"Today, as well as our business and trade links, we are joining together in the fight against terrorism. I want to express our total solidarity with you in the face of recent terrorist outrages in India," Blair said in Bangalore.
Addressing the dispute over Kashmir, Blair said, "Only politics, not terror, can solve issues like this. And the starting point of any dialogue must be the total and absolute rejection of actions such as those of 1 October and 13 December."
Other governments are trying to get Musharraf and Vajpayee to hold discussions to ease tension. Secretary of State Colin Powell said Friday he may send an envoy to South Asia next week to "encourage them to talk to one another."
Blair is to meet with Vajpayee on Sunday in New Delhi and see Musharraf in Islamabad on Monday.
Musharraf has taken steps against militant groups, but India has repeatedly said it would not hold direct talks or ease its military and diplomatic pressure unless Pakistan does more.
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