India, Pakistan step back from war

But as rhetoric cools, the nations continue military mobilization

January 01, 2002|By Mark Matthews | Mark Matthews,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON - India and Pakistan stepped back from their movement toward war yesterday when India for the first time praised Pakistani actions against militant Islamic groups blamed for last month's attack on the Parliament in New Delhi.

President Bush said tensions had eased between the rival nuclear powers and that he appreciates Pakistan's president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, "cracking down hard" on Islamic groups that allegedly have spearheaded attacks on India.

"Terror is terror, and the fact that the Pakistani president is after terrorists is a good sign," Bush said during a stop at a delicatessen near his ranch in Crawford, Texas.

Early yesterday, Pakistan arrested Hafiz Saeed, leader of Lashkar-e-Tayyaba, one of two Pakistan-based groups that India blames for the attack on Parliament on Dec. 13.

However, the public shift away from saber-rattling by India and Pakistan was not immediately reflected in a relaxation of military tensions.

"There's continued mobilization" by both nations, a U.S. official said. "Toward the end of this week," India will likely have the necessary forces in position to launch hostilities, the official said.

"We have to stay ready," said an Indian diplomat in Washington.

A Pakistani diplomat said that if India begins to pull back its forces, Pakistan would reciprocate.

The crisis erupted with the attack on India's Parliament. India blames Pakistan for harboring the two terrorist groups it says are responsible, Lashkar-e-Tayyaba and Jaish-e-Mohammed.

Demanding that Pakistan put those groups out of business, India began its biggest military mobilization in years, placing more than 1 million troops and numerous aircraft along its border with Pakistan.

Pakistan, with a smaller conventional army than India's, has said that it would not be the first to resort to force. But it has refused to echo India's pledge not to be the first to use nuclear weapons in a South Asian conflict. This left open the possibility that Pakistan might respond to an Indian attack by launching nuclear weapons.

`A step forward'

A statement yesterday by India's foreign minister marked the first time in the current crisis that New Delhi has acknowledged any serious Pakistani crackdown against the two militant groups accused of carrying out the attack on Parliament.

The statement was made after Pakistan arrested Saeed of Lashkar-e-Tayyaba on charges of making inflammatory speeches and inciting violence.

Earlier, Pakistan had arrested the leader of Jaish-e-Mohammed, the smaller of the two militant Islamic groups, and had frozen the assets of both groups. About 50 other militants were arrested.

"We have received information about some actions having been taken by Pakistan authorities against the Lashkar-e-Tayyaba and Jaish-e-Mohammed, including the arrest of their leaders, some other officials of these organizations, and raids on some of the premises of these two terrorist organizations," India's external affairs minister, Jaswant Singh, said in a statement.

"If this information is confirmed, then it is a step forward in the correct direction," he said. "We hope that such actions against terrorist activities targeting India, including Jammu and Kashmir, would be pursued vigorously, until cross-border terrorism in our country is completely eliminated."

The border territory of Kashmir has been the cause of two wars and constant friction since India and Pakistan gained independence from Britain in 1947.

On Sunday, India's ambassador to Washington, Lalit Mansingh, had dismissed Pakistan's efforts as "too little, too late" and "token gestures."

On Friday, Bush urged India's leaders to note Pakistan's arrest of 50 militants but recognized that it was not enough to still the drumbeat of war. On Saturday, he phoned Musharraf and Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee.

"I urged President Musharraf to do everything he could to crack down on the terrorist network that had bombed the Indian Parliament," Bush said yesterday.

"In my conversation with the [Indian] prime minister, I said I can understand how he feels," Bush said. "If someone attacked the U.S. Capitol, I'd feel angry, too.

"However, I explained to the Indian prime minister that while I understood his anger, I was hoping that they were not headed for war. I said, `Give us all a chance to work with President Musharraf to bring the terrorists to justice,' and today, as you know, he apprehended the head of what they call" Lashkar-e-Tayyaba.

India accuses Pakistan's spy agency of sponsoring the Parliament attack, which it said was carried out by the Lashkar and Jaish groups. India has linked both groups to al-Qaida, the international terrorist network headed by Osama bin Laden. Pakistan has condemned the attack and denies any official involvement.

Diplomatic moves

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