Indian general warns of new mountain war

War on Terrorism: Kashmir
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The Independent Online

India and Pakistan are closer to war over Kashmir than at any time since 1965, the commander of the Indian army in the disputed Himalayan territory warned yesterday.

India and Pakistan are closer to war over Kashmir than at any time since 1965, the commander of the Indian army in the disputed Himalayan territory warned yesterday.

That was the year in which the last full-scale war over the Kashmir issue erupted between the perennially hostile south Asian neighbours.

Speaking at a seminar in Jammu, the winter capital of Kashmir, Lieutenant-General R K Nanavatty, head of the Indian Army's Northern Command, said: "In August 1965 the situation was not entirely dissimilar to what it is today, when we undertook a conventional war in the Haji Pir area."

The 2,700-metre Haji Pir Pass was the site of India's first campaign of the 1965 war.

The commander discounted the idea that fears of a nuclear exchange might dissuade India from fighting. "The nuclearisation of the subcontinent might have affected the situation," he said, "but despite that the space exists for a limited conventional operation."

Within the upper echelons of the Indian government, a coalition dominated by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, the urge to mete out punishment to Pakistan has rarely been keener. Jaswant Singh, the Indian Foreign Minister, recently described Pakistan as "the epicentre of terrorism".

In India's eyes, Islamabad is being flattered and bribed by the American government to support its Afghan campaign, while terrorists, allegedly trained and financed by Pakistan, continue to launch bold attacks in Indian Kashmir.

Yesterday was a quiet day in the low-intensity conflict – India calls it a "proxy war" – that has lasted for 11 years: one Indian soldier died and four were wounded after Pakistani troops opened fire across the Line of Control that divides the sectors controlled by India and Pakistan.

But on 1 October a suicide attack on Kashmir's state legislature in Srinagar killed 40 and wounded dozens more, and Western diplomats in Delhi believe that in the following days a new Indo-Pakistan war was narrowly averted.

In the past fortnight, Indian politicians have moderated their bellicose rhetoric, claiming for instance that they will not engage in hot pursuit of foreign militants across the Line of Control. But Western diplomats in the region believe the peace remains extremely fragile.

"The situation remains volatile," said one. "Another incident like that of 1 October would concentrate the minds of the Indian government. Reassurances are only good until the next incident."

Earlier this week, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the Indian Prime Minister, said he had decided against taking the opportunity of his visit to the United Nations General Assembly in New York this month to meet Pakistan's President, General Pervez Musharraf. Mr Musharraf retorted that he "was not going to beg" for a meeting.

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