Muslim militants spearhead Kashmir occupation

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WESTERN INTELLIGENCE sources in Islamabad said yesterday they had evidence that the fighters attacked by India in disputed Kashmir had been trained in 40 camps set up in Pakistan along the line of control (LOC).

The sources said that in recent months there has been an increase in training activities close to the LOC with 3,000 militants now concentrated in and around the disputed border zone. Many, they say, are Afghans or Arabs.

About 300 of the militants are believed to have crossed the border into India and occupied a series of Indian border posts left empty by the Indian Army during the harsh Himalayan winter. The posts, which mainly comprise reinforced concrete bunkers, dominate crucial supply routes. The ridge is about 16,000 feet high.

"For the Pakistanis everything is going perfectly," a Western diplomat based in Islamabad said. "They want to keep Kashmir alive as an issue on the world stage and this is a very good way of doing it while causing massive difficulties for the Indians."

In Islamabad an army spokesman said that in addition to the air attacks, "ferocious" artillery duels were in progress across the LOC in the same general area as the air attacks. Last night refugees were fleeing Skardu in anticipation of more air raids.

Yesterday's duels were provoked, the spokesman said, when Indian troops came up to the border.

On the Indian side the town of Kargil, the biggest centre of population in the region, was said to be almost deserted, 60 per cent of the population having fled from fear of air strikes from Pakistan.

Pakistan's Foreign Minister, Sartaj Aziz, said that India should stop the escalation of fighting and honour the Lahore Declaration, signed by the Indian and Pakistani prime ministers barely three months ago, in which the neighbouring countries promised to settle their differences through negotiations.

But a Pakistani army spokesman warned that the situation was now highly volatile. "I fear that patience is going to run low after some time here," he said. "There is a limit to the amount of restraint one can exercise ... If they continue to escalate the way they are doing, they will suffer very, very badly."

Today is the first anniversary of Pakistan's nuclear tests. One of the straws of comfort clutched one year ago, both within the subcontinent and beyond, was that another war between India and Pakistan was now impossible.

But as a senior British official in Delhi put it yesterday: "The notion that the possession of nuclear weapons made war between India and Pakistan impossible now has to be re-examined."