Pakistan warns that war with India is looming

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The Independent Online

Tensions between India and Pakistan continued to rise yesterday as Islamabad warned that a war with its giant neighbour was a strong possibility unless there was a serious international effort to prevent it.

Tensions between India and Pakistan continued to rise yesterday as Islamabad warned that a war with its giant neighbour was a strong possibility unless there was a serious international effort to prevent it.

Pakistan's chief military spokesman, Major General Rashid Qureshi, said the government of India had painted itself into a corner. "The deployment of troops on the Indian side suggested a desire on the part of the government there to attain a capability for offensive action" the general told a press conference.

Earlier, senior Pakistani security officials said that the deployment of troops by India over the past week was so large that it indicated Delhi was planning a full-fledged war. They said they believed that 95 per cent of the Indian air force was now in an offensive position – in addition to the existing heavy deployment of troops along the border. The officials described this deployment as the biggest in 30 years.

Pakistan has refused to comment on its own deployments and says it is simply responding to moves by India.

The crisis began on 13 December when a suicide squad attacked the Indian parliament building in Delhi. Fourteen people died in the attack, including all five terrorists, and India blamed two Pakistan-based militant groups: Lashkar-e-Tayyiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad, and insisted that Pakistan take action against them.

Since then India has mounted a diplomatic offensive, recalling its high commissioner to Islamabad and announcing the cutting of all travel links with its neighbour. Shelling and mortar fire across the border has become a daily occurrence, and the Indian Army has ordered the evacuation of 20,000 people in 40 villages close to the border in Kashmir.

The international community – including the United States, China, the European Union, the United Nations and the UK's Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw – have all appealed for peace. Mr Straw said he was "deeply concerned" about the situation and called on both countries to work together to resolve their differences.

But as the diplomatic and military ratchet tightened, both nuclear-armed nations seemed oblivious to the fact that they were playing an old game in a new world. Due to the war in Afghanistan, the United States is now heavily engaged in the region. It has full use of two Pakistani military air bases and since the start of the war has taken control of about one-third of Pakistan's air space to facilitate its military operations over Afghanistan.

Up to 35,000 Pakistani troops have been assigned to protect the US forces stationed inside Pakistan. In addition, 60,000 Pakistani troops have been dispatched to the Durand Line, the 1400km Pakistani-Afghan border, to catch any al-Qa'ida agents, including Osama bin Laden, who might be tempted to cross over.

President Bush told reporters yesterday: "My administration is working actively to bring some calm in the region and hopefully to convince both sides to stop the escalation of force."

The US Secretary of State, Colin Powell, has been calling leaders in both Delhi and Islamabad all week, pleading for restraint. As a Western diplomat in Delhi said this week: "An all-out war between India and Pakistan would not just disrupt the hunt for bin Laden, but it would make the whole American military campaign seem like a schoolyard fight."

It was the threat of American action against terrorists that bounced Pakistan's military ruler, General Pervez Musharraf, into unshackling Pakistan from the Taliban. India now thinks he should likewise ditch what they call the "cross-border terrorists" based in Pakistan, many of them Pakistanis or Afghans, who sustain the 11-year-old insurgency in Kashmir. To try and force his hand, India is carrying brinkmanship to a new extreme.

But yesterday commentators pointed out that India's belligerence could have some unintended results. The presence of the US in Pakistan is not inert. For decades now India has flatly refused to discuss Kashmir with any party except Pakistan, insisting that it is an internal Indian problem.

If India were to choose this moment to launch a fourth Indo-Pakistani war, it is impossible to imagine that the US would stand idly by. It would demand a swift end to the fighting, and would go on to demand that the two sides sit down and thrash it out around a table. With an extra seat for the United States.

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