India, Pakistani leaders say they are looking for peace but ready for war
NEW DELHI, India (AP) — India and Pakistan moved warplanes, troops and reportedly missiles to their border, and the leaders of both nuclear rivals said Tuesday they were looking for peace but ready for war.
The troop and military hardware movements were the latest sign of soaring tensions since a Dec. 13 suicide attack on Parliament that India blames on Pakistan-based militants. India says Pakistan’s spy agency sponsored the attack with the help of two Islamic militant groups — the Lashkar-e-Tayyaba and Jaish-e-Mohammed — which are battling to end Indian rule in Kashmir.
India moved air force jets closer to the border Tuesday, and said that artillery fire had destroyed a dozen Pakistani bunkers in the disputed Kashmir region.
“We do not want war, but war is being thrust on us and we will have to face it,” Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee said at a public address at his residence.
That sentiment was echoed by Pakistan’s military leader, President Gen. Pervez Musharraf, who assured his country that the armed forces “are fully prepared and capable of defeating all challenges.”
Musharraf did say, however, that relations could improve if India sheds its “superiority complex” and deals with Pakistan “on an equal footing.” Musharraf also used a speech marking the 125th birthday of the nation’s founder to criticize Muslim extremists for tarnishing Islam’s image by promoting hatred.
In another move that could help ease tensions, his government on Tuesday briefly detained the founder of Jaish-e-Mohammed, Masood Azhar — the Islamic cleric who India says planned the Parliament attack. Azhar, freed from an Indian prison in 1999 in exchange for a planeload of hijacked passengers, is one of India’s most wanted men.
A major shift appeared to be under way regarding the groups, which had previously been allowed to openly raise money and recruit volunteers in Pakistan. On Monday, Lashkar-e-Tayyaba said it had closed its Islamabad office and would operate only in Kashmir.
With the group’s shutdown on Tuesday, major Islamic guerrilla groups now apparently have no official presence in Pakistan.
Jaish-e-Mohammed and a third group, Harkat-ul Mujahedeen, closed their Pakistan offices shortly after the Sept. 11 terrorist strikes in America.
Under orders from Pakistani security agencies, the groups have pledged to remove their billboards, banners and flags from major cities and agreed to stop soliciting donations.
India and Muslim Pakistan have fought two wars in half a century over Kashmir, a mostly Muslim region that is divided between them but claimed by both. Both countries tested nuclear weapons in 1998.
While Indian officials have hinted repeatedly at a possible military response to the Parliament attack, which killed 14 people including the five attackers, they have emphasized that war with Pakistan would be a last resort if diplomatic efforts to achieve their goals fail.
Nonetheless, signs of the dispute between India and Pakistan were everywhere, and India’s ambassador to Pakistan, Vijay Nambiar, warned the conflict was becoming difficult to control.
“The situation is getting more and more difficult to contain. There is a very strong sense of mistrust,” Nambiar said upon his return to New Delhi. He was recalled from Pakistan last week.
In order to smooth troop and weapons transportation in the area of the border, Indian railroad authorities suspended about a dozen passenger train routes linking air bases and other military facilities.
As some 2,000 Indian villagers near the border with Pakistan-controlled Kashmir moved out, Indian and Pakistani army troops continued to shell each other’s positions and trade small-arms fire. Many villagers were also fleeing their homes in other states that border Pakistan.
One Indian soldier was killed, a civilian truck damaged and its driver wounded, an army official said on condition of anonymity. Television showed Indian men and women hiding behind walls, screaming and ducking as bullets apparently soared over their heads.
Border skirmishes are common between India and Pakistan along the frontier in Kashmir, but clashes have become more frequent since the suicide attack. The two countries share borders across four Indian states, including Kashmir.
Indian gunners targeted Pakistani army positions and hit some 12 bunkers, said army spokesman Lt. Col. H.S. Oberoi.
In New Delhi, the Hindustan Times newspaper reported that India had moved short-range missiles to the northern Punjab state, along the Pakistani border. Oberoi said Pakistani units were detected moving medium-range missile batteries Tuesday to the frontier in Jammu-Kashmir.
An Indian Air Force official told The Associated Press that air force jets and weapons had been moved toward the border, after military authorities received concrete intelligence that Pakistan was moving its forces there. Indian army sources say both governments are massing thousands of soldiers near the border.
Some in India are asking the government to end trade with Pakistan, prohibit its planes from flying through Indian air space, and even revoke a treaty on the sharing of river water that irrigates Pakistani agricultural farmland.
Amid the clamor for war, there were voices demanding peace.
In New Delhi, hundreds of women, children and social workers formed a human chain around the India Gate, a British-era sandstone gateway built in the memory of martyred soldiers, and urged the government not to wage war. They held placards that said: “We want peace, not war.”
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