Missile tests raise tensions between India and Pakistan

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The Independent Online

South Asia's fault lines were dangerously exposed last night after India accused Pakistan of involvement in a massacre, both sides test-fired missiles and a prominent Hindu nationalist was assassinated.

South Asia's fault lines were dangerously exposed last night after India accused Pakistan of involvement in a massacre, both sides test-fired missiles and a prominent Hindu nationalist was assassinated.

These developments, within one day, added to the gloom and instability besetting the region, deepened by the American-British invasion of Iraq and a surge of killings in Kashmir.

There was trouble yesterday on several fronts. Indian police flooded the streets of Ahmedabad in Gujarat – the state in which 2,000 were killed last year in Hindu-Muslim violence – after unidentified gunmen shot dead Haren Pandya. He was a senior leader of the anti-Muslim paramilitary Hindu nationalist group, the National Volunteer Force (RSS), and a former state minister.

Indian security forces were on red alert as 10,000 angry followers of Mr Pandya gathered outside the hospital in which his corpse lay.

The RSS was accused by police and human rights groups of organising the torching of Muslim homes and killing of their residents in communal bloodletting that erupted after Muslims killed 58 Hindus in February last year. Hindu-Muslim violence in the state often increases tensions between India and Pakistan. Gujarat is a Hindu nationalist stronghold governed by Narendra Modi, who won office last year by blaming the state's problems on Pakistan and Muslims.

Yesterday, the Indian government accused Pakistan of involvement in the killing of 25 Hindus by anti-India militants in Kashmir. Eleven women and two children were among those who died when a group of armed men burst into the village of Nadi Marg, dragged people out of their homes and opened fire from close range. Survivors said the attackers wore Indian police uniforms. "The pattern, methodology and nature of the targets of these acts of terror are all too familiar and therefore the culpability of Pakistan is all too clear," said India's Foreign Ministry. The US and Britain fired off strongly worded statements condemning the slaughter of the villagers. India vowed to use "strength, determination and resolve" in dealing with Islamabad. Its cabinet met yesterday to decide how to respond.

The Nadi Marg killings have added to Delhi's long-standing conviction that Washington is guilty of double standards in its "war on terror" by launching attacks on Afghanistan and Iraq, but embracing Pakistan.

India has been especially irked by US suggestions that it should resume talks with Pakistan – who it says harbours armed militant groups.

This has added to its annoyance over the US-Pakistan alliance in the hunt for al-Qa'ida, formed after 11 September.

"The epicentre of international terrorism that exists in our neighbourhood and the infrastructure of support and sponsorship of cross-border terrorism must be completely dismantled," said the Indian Foreign Ministry said yesterday.

It said the global war on terror could be won only if it was pursued "without double standards and terrorism is eradicated wherever it exists, without being influenced by short-term political and other considerations". Islamabad has denied Indian accusations that it sponsors Kashmiri militant attacks, saying only that it provides moral support to "freedom fighters" intent on ending Indian "occupation". A government spokesman condemned the Nadi Marg killings.

After recent signs of easing hostilities, India and Pakistan are once again eyeball-to-eyeball. There have been tit-for-tat diplomatic expulsions and regular threats. A further signal was sent yesterday when both sides test-fired short-range missiles.

India fired a Prithvi missile, with a range of 95 miles, from its testing centre in Orissa.

Pakistan fired one of its Abdali missiles, with a range of about 132 miles.

As night fell, the Himalayas echoed yet again to the sound of Indian and Pakistani forces tradingheavy artillery and mortar fire in Kashmir.

Reports said one civilian was killed and 14 were wounded on the Pakistani side of the de facto frontier that divides the region; Indian officials claimed casualties on the Indian side, without giving details.