India says Pakistan is a rogue nation that supports terror

Islamabad deserves place in America's 'axis of evil' says Delhi's Foreign Minister, as row grows over Iraqi weapons dossier

India's Foreign Minister branded Pakistan a rogue state yesterday and said it should be included in President George Bush's "axis of evil", a declaration that constitutes a serious extension of the war of words between the nuclear neighbours.

In the strongest language used by a senior Indian official against its neighbour, Yashwant Sinha told The Independent that Pakistan was a sham democracy that had been caught red-handed proliferating nuclear bomb technology, exporting terrorism and trafficking drugs.

"While Bush may have the idea that there are three members of the axis of evil, one may conclude that one has been left out: Pakistan," he said in an interview in London.

Pakistan was continuing to promote terrorism over the Line of Control with Kashmir, and India "will continue to fight with what might we have, the menaces of cross-border terrorism. Pakistan is a difficult country and we will have to deal with them," he added.

As Mr Sinha was criticising Pakistan, his counterpart in Islamabad was warning that Pakistan's military and nuclear weapons were meant for self-defence and to "deter Indian adventurism".

Khursheed Mahmud Kasuri, Pakistan's Foreign Minister, maintained there would be no change to the country's hardline stand on Kashmir.

American intelligence officials recently leaked details of a secret trade of nuclear bomb technology for long-range missiles between Pakistan and North Korea. According to CIA testimony to Congress, Pakistan sold technology and equipment to make highly enriched uranium for North Korea's secret nuclear bomb programme. In return, North Korea provided Pakistan's President, General Pervez Musharraf, with the missile technology he wants for the arms race with India.

The revelations, combined with electoral gains made by Islamic fundamentalists in Pakistan's recent elections, have strained Washington's relations with President Musharraf. Although both remain allies in the war on terrorism and Pakistan is working closely with US intelligence agencies to find al-Qa'ida operatives in Pakistan, the revelations of a secret nuclear trade with North Korea are extremely damaging.

Mr Sinha said that by the criteria President Bush used to brand Iraq, Iran and North Korea as paid-up members of the "axis of evil'' then it ought to include Islamabad as well. "Pakistan is the single most deserving'' of being branded an outlaw state, he said.

The two countries came close to war this year after India accused Pakistani-based militants of a murderous attack on its parliament last December. Nearly a million troops massed on the border between the two countries and the tension only eased after high-level US diplomacy. Troops have since been pulled back but the deployment remains massive.

Mr Sinha said Pakistan had exported Taliban ideology into Afghanistan and after the US-led war "most of the surviving Taliban and al-Qa'ida" had come back to hide in Pakistan.

Pakistan is also a conduit for heroin smuggled from its own North-West frontier, the semi-autonomous region bordering Afghanistan. Pakistan has deployed thousands of troops in the area to try to catch al-Qa'ida suspects, a move that has led to a fierce backlash from tribal leaders.

In recent months local people have started growing poppies again as a mark of defiance against the pursuit of Taliban and al-Qa'ida fugitives in the region by the central government and the United States.

More bad news came in October when in the country's national elections an alliance of pro-Taliban religious groups won control of one strategically important province and just fell short in another.

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