Indian forces ready for war

Army chief promises all-out retaliation, up to nuclear attack

U.S. tries to defuse tension

January 12, 2002|By Mark Matthews | Mark Matthews,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON - The chief of India's army pronounced his country "fully prepared" for war yesterday, threatening all-out retaliation if Pakistan resorted to nuclear attack but insisting India would not do so first.

The comments by Gen. Sunderajan Padmanabhan, at a news conference in New Delhi, were not echoed by India's civilian leaders.

But his remarks suggested India had all but completed a military buildup on the border under way since mid-December, when an attack on India's Parliament triggered a crisis between South Asia's two nuclear-armed rivals. India has blamed two Pakistan-based militant groups for that attack.

A U.S. official said both sides are "very far along" in the mobilization of armed forces along the border. "With each passing day, the situation has gotten more serious," the official said.

The two sides have exchanged gunfire along the border, where tens of thousands of troops from each side have massed.

The sharp words from India's army chief heightened pressure on President Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan to announce firm measures to crack down on cross-border terrorism in a speech he will deliver tonight.

Musharraf is expected to condemn terrorism, extremism and religious intolerance, invoking the spirit of Pakistan's founder, Mohammed Ali Jinna. Musharraf might also announce the banning of certain extremist groups.

But a top Indian official, on a visit to Washington, warned that words would not be enough. "India will judge Pakistan and its leader not by the speech but by the action that accompanies the speech," said Home Minister Shri L.K. Advani.

"What is needed is Pakistan abandoning terrorism as an instrument of state policy, which would mean not providing finance, not providing arms, not providing training for terrorists."

The most visible steps would be turning over 20 terrorist and criminal suspects demanded by India, including Daoud Ibrahim, whom India accuses of a bombing in Bombay, and halting the infiltration of arms and men into the Indian-controlled section of Kashmir, Advani said.

Top American officials have been working feverishly to pull the two nations back from the brink of war. President Bush and Secretary of State Colin L. Powell both have met with Advani in Washington in the past few days. Powell plans to visit both India and Pakistan next week to try to defuse tension and encourage direct talks.

"We want Musharraf to take seriously the concerns of India and [demonstrate] that he's working rigorously against all terrorists," Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage said. If extradition of terrorists and criminals sought by India is possible, "it would seem to be a good thing," he said.

But Armitage, in an interview, praised Musharraf for already having made "valiant decisions" to reduce terrorism emanating from Pakistan and said, "India has to recognize what Musharraf has given at the office."

At the core of the dispute between the two nations is the divided region of Kashmir, which each nation claims as its own. Pan-Islamic militants backed by Pakistan have been fighting Indian control of part of Kashmir. India has responded with repression, human rights groups say.

Pakistani diplomats say the list of suspects sought by India could be the subject of negotiation. But Musharraf will find it hard to make concessions under pressure from India, particularly over Kashmir.

"In the current situation, it would be politically difficult for any Pakistani leader to appear to be diluting Pakistan's commitment to the just struggle of Kashmiri people for self-determination if it appears this is being done due to Indian pressure," said Asad Hayauddin, a spokesman for the Pakistani Embassy in Washington.

India, backed by a broad national consensus, would oppose any American effort to mediate the Kashmir dispute, Advani said.

Army chief Padmanabhan, at his news conference, threatened overwhelming retaliation if Pakistan resorted to nuclear weapons. India has pledged repeatedly, however, not to be the first to use nuclear arms.

"Should any nuclear weapons be used against Indian forces, the perpetrator of that particular outrage shall be punished and so severely that their continuation thereafter in any form of fray will be doubtful," Padmanabhan said.

His comments were apparently stronger than the message that India's civilian leaders wanted to convey yesterday.

Defense Minister George Fernandes sought to play down Padmanabhan's remarks, saying: "In the prevailing situation on the subcontinent, we are pursuing the diplomatic efforts in the belief that they will yield results."

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