'The world's most dangerous place' is already at war

President Bill Clinton, on the eve of his visit to the subcontinent, called the ceasefire line that divides Kashmir "the most dangerous place in the world".

The fear outside the region is that violence across the line could spark a new war between India and Pakistan, with the potential to turn nuclear. But a visit to the line this week revealed that a low-level war is already in progress.

In the Shimla Agreement of 1972, India and Pakistan re-named the ceasefire line "the line of control" (LoC), to underline its importance as a cordon sanitaire between Indian and Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. Today, however, the line exists to be violated. As Brigadier Jasbir Singh, inspecting Pakistani bunkers from the Indian side of the line told The Independent this week: "It has become the line of no control."

Yesterday Indian security forces in Kashmir were celebrating the killing of six Kashmiri militants including one, Abdul Gadda, whom they hold responsible in part for the massacre two years ago of 23 Kashmiri Hindus.

Mr Gadda was a commander of the Islamic militant group Hizbul Mujahideen. Though a native Kashmiri, he, like thousands of others, crossed the line into Pakistan-occupied Kashmir some 10 years ago, andtrained in guerrilla warfare.

It was violation of the LoC last spring by Pakistani troops and Islamic militants which triggered the "mountain war" and created a nuclear flashpoint - both countries having tested nuclear weapons in May 1998.

The war ostensibly ended in July, when Pakistan's then prime minister, Nawaz Sharif,said he was ordering the "Mujahideen" across the LoC to pull back. But little has changed.Tensions along much of the LoC today are worse than ever.

At its southern extreme the LoC enters the plains and joins India's established border with Pakistan. Infiltration is difficult here, but it still happens. Here at Pallanwala, 16 Pakistani soldiers who had breached the line were killed by Indian troops three weeks ago.

This is placid farming country, and the small fields are already full of winter wheat. As one nears the LoC, the fields become bare: they have not been tilled for a year. Pakistani mortar and rocket fire has forced thousands of people to flee.

Brigadier Singh has a simple explanation for the attacks on the town "These people are Hindus," he says. "By driving them away, the Pakistanis are attempting indirect ethnic cleansing of the area."

From the perspective of an Indian bunker on the Tawi River, the war never finished. "Until May 1999," Brigadier Singh says, "there was only small arms firing along the LoC... Mortar firing started last May and is continuing almost daily. Every second day there is a raid. And at night terrorists sneak through and disappear into Muslem pockets."

Twenty kilometres away, at least 5,000 villagers have been crammed into tents throughout the winter, victims of an undeclared war that is now nearly one year old.

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