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India, Pakistan cooling off, Powell says during travels

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NEW DELHI, India — Tensions between nuclear-armed neighbors India and Pakistan have eased considerably, Secretary of State Colin Powell said before arriving in New Delhi on Thursday.

Just before Powell's arrival, India announced that it was open to dialogue with Pakistan and praised Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf for speaking out against Islamic extremists — a notable change from new Delhi's earlier lukewarm response.

"I don't think it's as dangerous as it was a weekend or two ago," Powell told CBS' "The Early Show" as he headed from Afghanistan to the Indian capital.

Powell credited Musharraf for cooling things down by condemning terrorism in a speech last week and vowing to curb Islamic militants accused of attacks in India.

"I think there has been some progress as a result of President Musharraf's speech this past weekend and the actions he has taken — actions that are a direct response to concerns that India had," Powell said. "The Indians have responded positively; they want to see more action."

However, tensions remained high in the disputed province of Kashmir, where a bomb blast in a crowded market Thursday night killed one shopper and injured 10 others. Police, speaking on condition of anonymity, did not immediately blame Islamic militants for the blast in Jammu, the winter capital of India's Jammu-Kashmir state.

Powell visited Pakistan on Wednesday, where he urged the South Asian rivals to find a diplomatic solution to their monthlong standoff, sparked by a Dec. 13 attack by gunmen on India's Parliament. India said Islamic militants conducted the attack, blamed Pakistan — which denied any role — and both countries massed hundreds of thousands of troops on their border.

The statements Thursday by India's home minister, Lal K. Advani marked a change in tone from India's earlier tough rhetoric.

"The speech which Gen. Musharraf has made is important, is in a way path-breaking," Advani said after returning from a visit to Washington. "I have not heard earlier any other Pakistani leader denouncing theocracy in the manner in which Gen. Musharraf did."

Powell also made a quick visit to Afghanistan on Thursday, pledging strong support to the flat-broke post-Taliban administration. Powell is the first U.S. secretary of state to visit Kabul since Henry Kissinger in 1976.

Powell was scheduled to have a working dinner Thursday with India's foreign minister, Jaswant Singh, and is to meet with Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and his national security adviser Friday before heading to Nepal.

Kissinger, himself on a private visit to India to meet with business leaders, met Thursday with K.C. Pant, the government's chief negotiator with Kashmiri separatist groups.

The former secretary of state under Presidents Nixon and Ford, Kissinger denied playing any U.S. government role in de-escalating tensions between India and Pakistan.

"I have come here to educate myself on a few facts about Kashmir and there was no specific agenda of our talks with Pant," Kissinger told the Press Trust of India news agency.

He said he believed Washington should play no role in meditating the Kashmiri conflict, as demanded by Musharraf.

Meanwhile, U.S. troops were supervising Afghan forces collecting weapons house to house in the southern town of Spinboldak, near the border with Pakistan.

Marine demolitions teams exploded old warheads for surface-to-air missiles discovered at a Taliban air-defense site, Marine officials said at a daily briefing in Kandahar.