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Kashmir war of rocks and grappling hooks

As the war hardens, the Pakistani leader and Clinton strike a tentative

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It is a surreal struggle: Two nuclear powers, reduced at times to hurling boulders, battle for a range of inhospitable frozen peaks.

The current war between India and Pakistan puts a much harder edge on what had become an almost ritualized clash in recent decades, and reverses the goodwill that had come out of peace talks in February.

With ropes and grappling hooks, sometimes climbing a sheer 85-degree rock face, Maj. Radesh Seti and his Indian Army regiment surprised a group of fighters from Pakistan and drove many of them from a 16,500-foot Himalayan stronghold.

But Major Seti says the peak is not yet clear. "This is still an ongoing operation," he says, "we are going to have to be patient."

For the Indian Army, in the seventh week of a costly and difficult war, that statement sums up the frustrating battlefield situation in the disputed Kashmir region - a war that has thrown the two nuclear states of South Asia into their worst crisis in decades.

Now that war may be at a diplomatic and military crossroads. On Sunday the Indian military reportedly recaptured most of a key peak called Tiger Hill that Pakistani-backed troops were using to cut off resupply lines.

At the same time, US President Clinton and visiting Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif issued a joint statement saying Pakistan would urge troops in Kashmir to respect the agreed upon 1972 border, known as the Line of Control - a statement viewed with skepticism by Indian officials but still regarded as crucial.

"The joint communique between Sharif and Clinton is extraordinarily important," says Gen. V. R. Raghavan, former director of military operations for the Indian Army, now with the Delhi policy group. "If Sharif is unable to deliver, it will show the state of the Pakistan government, and would presumably allow us space to cross the line of control."

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