Pakistan defiant toward India

Musharraf urges talks on Kashmir, withdrawal of Indian troops on border

Third missile is test-fired

Amid fear of nuclear war, U.S., Russia and Britain dispatch envoys to region

May 28, 2002|By Frank Langfitt | Frank Langfitt,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

BEIJING - In a defiant speech more likely to heighten tensions than reduce them, President Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan insisted that his country would not allow cross-border attacks against India, but warned that Pakistan is ready for war with its nuclear-armed neighbor.

Musharraf asked the international community to persuade India to negotiate over the future of the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir and pull back hundreds of thousands of troops mobilized on Pakistan's border since an attack on India's Parliament in December.

"I urge the world community to ask India to move toward normalization of relations," said Musharraf, who wore a khaki military uniform and alternated between Urdu and English in his nationally televised speech from Islamabad, Pakistan's capital. "We do not want war. But if war is thrust upon us, we will respond with full might."

Musharraf's speech comes as tensions between South Asia's two nuclear powers seem at their highest since December. India blamed the assault by suspected Islamic militants on two groups based in Pakistan.

As world leaders plead for peace on the volatile South Asian subcontinent, Pakistan test-fired another short-range missile today, the Associated Press reported, quoting an army spokesman.

Pakistan has test-fired three ballistic missiles capable of carrying conventional and nuclear warheads into Indian territory since Saturday.

India carried out a series of missile tests in January. Pakistan announced last week it would conduct tests of its own.

While Pakistan said the tests had nothing to do with the standoff in Kashmir, and India said it wasn't bothered by them, they drew criticism from much of the world.

Musharraf vowed in January that Pakistani territory would not be used as a base for terrorist attacks and jailed about 2,000 suspected militants. Most have been released.

Tensions between the countries flared again May 14 when militants attacked an army camp in the portion of Kashmir that India controls. The assault, the bloodiest in Kashmir in nearly eight months, left more than 30 people dead.

The United States, Great Britain and Russia are sending diplomats to the region to try to prevent a war that could cost millions of lives. Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Anatoly Safonov arrived in Pakistan yesterday. British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw is to arrive today. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage plans to visit next week.

Musharraf has been a crucial ally in the war in Afghanistan. U.S. officials fear a conflict between India and Pakistan could hinder efforts to hunt down Osama bin Laden and members of his al-Qaida terrorist group.

Muslim Pakistan and Hindu India have waged two wars over Kashmir since they were partitioned in 1947 after gaining independence from Britain. Kashmir, a majority Muslim region, is the fought-over child in the countries' bitter divorce.

Islamabad insists that Kashmir should have joined Pakistan when it became an Islamic republic. New Delhi sees Kashmir as a symbol of India's multi- ethnic self-image.

In his speech, Musharraf expressed support for the "liberation movement" in the Indian-controlled part of Kashmir, and condemned Indian "tyranny and repression."

There are fears that another India-Pakistan war could spiral out of control and result in a nuclear catastrophe in one of the world's most populous regions. Their most recent conflict occurred in 1999, when Pakistani troops and Islamic militants seized Indian positions in remote Kargil.

At the time, Pakistan was preparing its nuclear weapons for deployment, according to a recent paper by Bruce Riedel, who served in the National Security Council under President Bill Clinton. Clinton persuaded Pakistan to step back.

Pakistan and India have neither the long experience with nuclear weapons nor the consistent, high level of communication that helped prevent nuclear war between the Soviet Union and the United States during the Cold War. The two countries' proximity - they share an 1,800-mile border - would leave almost no time to abort an accidental launch.

"The flight time is three to five minutes between capitals," said Karl. F Inderfurth, former assistant secretary of state for South Asia in the second Clinton administration. "It is likely that the first indication that something has happened would be an Indian or Pakistani official seeing a blinding flash of light when the detonation occurred."

Analysts in New Delhi and Islamabad say people there appear less worried about an all-out war and that both capitals remain calm.

Amitabh Mattoo, professor of disarmament studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi, said a nuclear war is unlikely because it would devastate both nations. A first strike by Islamabad would ensure Pakistan's annihilation, given its much smaller land area and India's larger nuclear arsenal. Fallout from a nuclear warhead could blow back across the border to the country from which the missile was launched.

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