Indian leader steps up rhetoric

U.S. seeks restraint as hostile neighbor Pakistan prepares for war

May 24, 2002|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

SRINAGAR, India - Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee of India sharpened his bellicose tone yesterday, declaring that India would not tolerate "any longer" what he called a 20-year campaign of terrorism by Pakistan.

At the same time, however, and perhaps with careful calculation, he was somewhat enigmatic.

Asked about his statement a few days ago about "war clouds," he said, "The sky is clear; there are no clouds." He quickly added, "But in a clear sky there can be sudden lightning."

Then, whether to keep Pakistan off guard or because he is willing to give peace a chance, he said, "I hope there will not be any lightning."

Vajpayee made similar remarks to Indian soldiers Wednesday, telling them the "decisive battle" was near, an assertion he repeated yesterday.

But yesterday, to make sure Pakistan and the world were listening, he held a news conference that was well attended by Indian and foreign journalists.

"We will not let Pakistan carry on with its proxy war against India any longer," he said.

India accuses Pakistan of supporting Kashmir separatists and Muslim radicals in the disputed territory of Kashmir, including a suicide attack 10 days ago near the winter capital, Jammu, that killed 32, including soldiers, their wives and children.

Reacting to the increasingly warlike statements from India, the Pakistani government made its own preparations yesterday.

It moved its troops away from the border with Afghanistan and pulled peacekeepers out of Sierra Leone, to make them available should fighting break out.

Reflecting the gravity of the situation, Vajpayee, who ruled out any negotiations with Pakistan over the status of Kashmir, held an extraordinary meeting yesterday with his senior military commanders in the Himalayan region that lasted more than two hours.

He also postponed a planned vacation to head back to New Delhi for a late-night meeting of his Security Cabinet.

Over the past week, with increasing intensity, the two countries' armies have been exchanging artillery volleys across the so-called Line of Control.

India and Pakistan, which were carved from the British Empire in 1947, have from the start fought over Jammu and Kashmir, which was previously ruled by a maharajah. After the first of their three wars, the region was divided along a cease-fire line, with India retaining about two-thirds of the populated land. Jammu and Kashmir is India's only Muslim-majority state.

Along with several European countries, the United States has urged India to show restraint, and it has urged President Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan to stop the infiltration of guerrilla fighters and terrorists into Kashmir.

On Wednesday, in response to the increasing tension, Musharraf, while reiterating his government's moral and political support for the Kashmiri separatists, said Pakistani territory would not be used by any Kashmir terrorist groups.

Reflecting the depth of enmity between the countries, and what appears to be a growing personal animosity between the leaders, Vajpayee dismissed Musharraf's promise.

He said it was a repeat of what Musharraf said in January when, in a major address to Pakistanis, the general banned two militant Islamic groups that India had accused of carrying out terrorist attacks on the Indian Parliament last December. He also promised to crack down on other groups carrying out terrorist activities in Kashmir.

"Promises were made, but they were not implemented," Vajpayee said yesterday. "Words must be matched by deeds."

In the past, Pakistani's powerful intelligence agency provided training and munitions for Kashmiri separatists. But after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, when Musharraf lent his support to the United States in the war on terrorism, he cracked down on the agency.

One question is how far Musharraf can go, or is willing to go, in severing relations between Pakistan and the separatists.

A referendum on Kashmir's status, which the United Nations called for 43 years ago, has never been held.

But the residents are split between remaining in India, becoming part of Pakistan or seeking independence.

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