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NEW DELHI, India (AP) _ India's prime minister on Wednesday called on Pakistan to jointly monitor their disputed Kashmir border, a conciliatory proposal that could pull the nuclear-armed rivals back from their war footing.

Pakistan played down the offer as nothing new and unlikely to work in the current climate of tension.

The Indian leader, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, said India and Pakistan should work together to patrol the border and verify Islamic militants were no longer crossing into Indian-controlled Kashmir to launch attacks against Indian security forces and Kashmiris.

Vajpayee's proposal was the first indication in the monthslong standoff that India was willing to cooperate with Pakistan in an effort to end the Kashmir insurgency and resolve a territorial dispute that dates to independence from Britain in 1947. Kashmir has been the flashpoint in two of the three wars between the South Asian rivals.

``Joint patrolling can be held by India and Pakistan,'' Vajpayee told a news conference in Almaty, Kazakhstan, shown live on Indian television.

``We want to move away from a path of confrontation to a path of cooperation,'' Vajpayee said before leaving an Asian security conference also attended by Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf.

Pakistan's Foreign Ministry said all proposals can be discussed ``as soon as India signifies a willingness to resume a comprehensive dialogue with Pakistan.''

But Pakistan said similar proposals have not worked in the past.

``The proposal is not new,'' the Foreign Ministry said. ``Given the state of Pakistan-India relations, mechanisms for joint patrolling are unlikely to work.''

The ministry noted that a small U.N. monitoring force already had a mandate to patrol the confrontation line in Kashmir and that it ``may be expanded to perform this role more effectively.''

India has previously ruled this out, however, and Vajpayee said it was not necessary to have a third country check for infiltration _ which Musharraf suggested Tuesday.

On Wednesday, Musharraf said tensions could ease with help of visits to the region in the next few days by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage.

In London ahead of his trip, Rumsfeld said that ``there's no question'' the Kashmir crisis has distracted Pakistan from helping the United States finish the war against al-Qaida in neighboring Afghanistan and in areas near the border where enemy fighters have fled and are hiding.

``At some point those (Pakistani) troops that are on the Afghan border are going to be moved,'' Rumsfeld said, though so far only small numbers have been moved to reinforce troops near Kashmir.

Britain and the United States have reportedly offered to help monitor the Line of Control in Kashmir.

Tensions between India and Pakistan rose after a deadly assault on the Indian Parliament in December, and have peaked following an attack on an Indian army base in Kashmir last month. That attack killed 34 people, mostly wives and children of army officers.

The international community has been scrambling to avert a potential fourth war between India and Pakistan as fears of a nuclear confrontation have escalated. Some 1 million Indian and Pakistani soldiers have been posted along both sides of the 1,800-mile border since December.

Shelling by Indian and Pakistani soldiers continued Wednesday, but the exchanges were less intense. Recent shelling has killed dozens of civilians on both sides of the border.

Pakistan reported two civilians were killed and five were wounded overnight in the town of Chikothi, and seven more were hurt Wednesday. ``The situation is very explosive and dangerous,'' said local military commander Isthkhar Ali Khan.

Police on the Indian side said they had killed six suspected Islamic militants in a raid on their hide-out.

In Lahore, Pakistan's second-largest city located near the Indian border, authorities held a limited civil defense drill Wednesday, with the sounding of air raid sirens.

Late Tuesday in Jammu, the winter capital of India's portion of Kashmir, Indian authorities prepared the nearly 1 million residents for a possible outbreak of hostilities by staging a war drill, the first during the recent tensions. Sirens wailed and Jammu was plunged into darkness. Residents stayed indoors and helicopters flew low over the city.

Amitabh Mattoo, a member of India's National Security Advisory Board and a professor at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi, called Vajpayee's surprise announcement significant.

``It's a great step forward in terms of India showing its flexibility to ensure that there is an objective verification of the situation on the ground,'' Mattoo said.

But Dr. Parvez Hoodhbhoy, a Pakistani anti-nuclear activist, doubted Pakistan would agree to joint monitoring unless India softened its stance on Kashmir.

He said even if Vajpayee did so, Musharraf would face opposition to the idea of joint monitoring from hard-liners in Pakistan who have already accused him of selling out to the United States by joining its coalition against terrorism.

Despite the Pakistani military leader's calls for dialogue, Vajpayee declined to talk to his counterpart during the summit in Kazakhstan. India has insisted that dialogue will only resume after cross-border terrorism has ended.

``Pakistan was not ready to stop cross-border terrorism. They are ready now _ at least they say they are,'' Vajpayee said.

``Once infiltration stops, terrorist camps are dismantled across the border and verification is done, we can consider other steps that will take us toward de-escalation,'' Vajpayee said.

Efforts by Russia, China and other nations failed to get Vajpayee and Musharraf to hold face-to-face talks Tuesday, but Russian President Vladimir Putin claimed to see progress toward such negotiations. He likened their impasse to the 1961 Cuban missile crisis.

Secretary of State Colin Powell said he had detected ``a little bit of improvement'' in the crisis, with somewhat less penetration by Muslim militants into the Indian-controlled part of Kashmir.

Indian Defense Minister George Fernandes, however, told Press Trust of Indian news agency that there was no evidence of any noticeable drop in infiltration.