Indian missiles 'in position' for conflict with Pakistan

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The Independent Online

Indian missiles were declared "in position" today, air force jets flew near the Pakistan border every few minutes and frontier forces exchanged gunfire as the two nuclear-armed nations prepared for a conflict both say they don't want.

Indian missiles were declared "in position" today, air force jets flew near the Pakistan border every few minutes and frontier forces exchanged gunfire as the two nuclear-armed nations prepared for a war both say they don't want.

India's Cabinet Committee on Security was meeting to discuss further diplomatic pressure on Pakistan, including a possible ban on Pakistan airline flights, abrogation of a water treaty, downgrading of embassies, and cancellation of Pakistan's "most favored nation" trading status.

"Missile systems are in position," Defence Minister George Fernandes told Press Trust of India. India's arsenal includes medium-range Russian missiles and the Indian-made Prithvi I, which can be fired from a mobile launcher and has a range of almost 100 miles.

Pakistan and Indian news media reported that Pakistani missiles, including medium-range Chinese-made weapons, had also been put on alert, while troops on both sides moved toward the border.

Both sides' missile systems can be converted to deliver nuclear warheads, but it is not clear whether such steps have been taken.

There are daily exchanges of gunfire between the troops, beginning with smaller weapons and escalating into mortar fire into bunkers.

Tensions have increased since a suicide attack on Parliament on 13 December, which India blames on Pakistan-based militants. India says Pakistan's intelligence agency sponsored the attack with the help of two Islamic militant groups ? the Lashkar-e-Tayyaba and Jaish-e-Mohammed ? which are battling to end Indian rule in Kashmir.

Pakistan has frozen the assets of the two groups and the leader of the Jaish-e-Mohammed was detained briefly on Tuesday, but Delhi said this falls far short of its demand that the groups' activities be halted and their leaders arrested and handed over to India.

"We do not want war, but war is being thrust on us and we will have to face it," Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee said at a public address at his residence on Tuesday, celebrating his 77th birthday.

Indian and Pakistan have fought three wars since their violent division at independence from Britain in 1947. Two of the wars have been over Kashmir, the mainly Muslim Himalayan region that is divided between them. Both claim all of it.

Pakistan's military leader, President General Pervez Musharraf, assured his country on Tuesday that the armed forces "are fully prepared and capable of defeating all challenges."

India recalled its ambassador from Islamabad and will shut down train and bus service between the two countries on 1 January, saying the diplomatic offensive is intended to pressure Musharraf to take strong action against the guerrillas.

India says the militants have also struck elsewhere, including at Parliament, where 14 people, including the attackers, were killed.

Gen. Musharraf condemned the Parliament attack, but said he would take no action without proof against the militants, whom he calls "freedom fighters." He denies that his government aids or has any control over them.

Trains were transporting soldiers to the border in Rajasthan and air force jets flew over the border town of Jaisalme every seven minutes today.

However, despite anti-aircraft batteries posted at airports and the army turning schools into bunkers, there were signs that war was not the first priority.

"I don't think anyone in India wants war and I don't think anyone in the subcontinent wants war," former Indian prime minister I.K. Gujral said on independent Star News television.

A summit of the seven South Asian leaders ? including Mr Vajpayee and Gen. Musharraf ? remained scheduled for 4-6 January in Katmandu, and Nepal said it had assurances that both men intended to come.

News reports quoted Indian military sources as saying they would not even be ready for a full-scale war for several months, and would prefer to avoid fighting in the winter.