West turns up heat on India

Secretary Colin Powell's trip to the region today aims to decode India's hostile signals toward neighboring Pakistan.

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

South Asia's nuclear powers are not yet backing down.

Despite the arrest of 1,500 Islamic militants in Pakistan yesterday, on the heels of a historic reform-minded speech by Pakistani leader Gen. Pervez Musharraf, the Indian military continues to mobilize its forces.

The two nations have massed nearly 1 million troops along their border in the largest military buildup in three decades.

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As US Secretary of State Colin Powell leaves for Islamabad, Pakistan, and New Delhi today, a number of Indian Army medical units have been given 48 hours to report to frontline positions, military sources say.

Still, India is sending mixed messages about whether its military buildup is largely an elaborate "staged" threat designed to force the US to push Pakistan to crack down on militants crossing into Kashmir - or whether India is actually preparing an attack.

Indian Defense Minister George Fernandes told reporters yesterday that if Pakistan does not stop supporting cross-border

infiltration, "we may be left with no option [but war].... The entire nation is fed up. We have had enough." Mr. Fernandes offered no timetable for when India would determine if the militancy had ended.

One senior Indian official, however, told the Monitor the buildup is "entirely pressure tactics. You take my word, there will be no war."

Here comes US pressure

Indian leaders, for their part, seemed caught off guard by the scope and scale of General Musharraf's speech to his nation Saturday. They are bracing for intense and unwanted international pressure, starting with Secretary Powell, to step down from the buildup that has put South Asia close to war. Of greater concern to Indian leaders is that Western diplomats will start a slow drumbeat for India to take up the dispute of Kashmir, the main trouble spot between the sibling rivals.

British Prime Minster Tony Blair, in a visit to Delhi last week, suggested India and Pakistan hold "sustained, meaningful, and comprehensive" talks on the half-century-old issue. The European Union, which praised Musharraf's crackdown, has also called for the two sides to "move toward renewed dialogue."

India has long held that "no third party" can intervene in its affairs. Yet with Indian Home Minister Lal Advani visiting Washington last week, Fernandes bound for the US, and Powell visiting here this week, such positions seem illusory, analysts say. The US has troops using four bases in Pakistan for its campaign in Afghanistan, and it does not want a conflagration that would endanger it soldiers or dissipate its efforts.

"With Advani's visit and Musharraf's speech, war is averted for the time being," says Satish Kumar, editor of India's National Security Annual Review, "but it is not ruled out in the next two to three months."

So comprehensive has been the armed forces buildup along India's border, military sources say, that fighting units are expected to remain there until late March, regardless of events.

Still, experts say Musharraf's greatly anticipated speech has had a substantial impact. Sounding like a latter-day Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the leader who "secularized" Muslim Turkey, Musharraf called for radical and sweeping modern reforms toward an Islam of "brotherhood and peace." Along with banning militant groups that operate in Kashmir, and detaining radicals, he outlined steps to register and control madrassas, the 10,000 grassroots Islamic schools, some of which have been the breeding ground for what Musharraf termed a "false, negative Islam of hate."

President George Bush phoned Musharraf to congratulate him for the speech - considered "courageous" even by some Indian commentators. The Pakistani leader faces great pressure by Islamic forces in his ethnically fractured country, including Islamists in the powerful Pakistani secret service.

Yesterday, the head of a Pakistani coalition of 35 Islamic militant groups responded to Musharraf's moves with a call for violent protests on Jan. 27. "Every patriotic Muslim should participate ... to condemn the government's anti-Islamic policies," Maulana Samiul Haq told The Associated Press.

India's options

The worry in Delhi is that India cannot match the kind of radical concessions offered by Musharraf, particularly on Kashmir.

"There are not a lot of options for us," says Rahul Bedi, an analyst for Jane's Defense Weekly. "I think the government is worried that diplomatic pressure is going to mount on India, and if we don't find some concessions, India can be projected as the warmonger."

On Kashmir, Musharraf argues that Pakistan will offer "moral and political" support to the Muslim-majority valley. "Kashmir runs in our blood," he said of the Himalayan region that has caused three wars between India and Pakistan, the most recent in 1999.

The Indian border mobilization began after the Parliament building here was attacked on Dec. 13 by five gunmen with alleged ties to groups in Kashmir or Pakistan. Pakistan denied any role. India officials compared the attack to the Sept. 11 New York bombing, and have resolutely argued, sometimes using the language of US officials on Afghanistan, that states harboring terrorists are legitimate targets. India views the presence in Pakistan of Islamic extremists who cross the border into the disputed territory of Kashmir as such terrorists.

Repeating this theme, India's defense minister yesterday spoke of the attack on the Indian Parliament: "Dec. 13 is a day that will remain etched in the minds of our people for all time.... There is no way India can accept such actions any more. "

Add to India's indignation in recent months, a general "peeved feeling" as a senior official put it, that after having spent several years cultivating the United States - slowly working to have the US cease treating India and Pakistan as equals in the region - suddenly, after Sept. 11, the US has reestablished a hearty relationship with Musharraf and the Pakistani military. Some Indians express dismay that Secretary Powell and Musharraf may have "hit it off," as a Indian analyst put it, because they are both military men and can share past experiences and viewpoints.

Unclear is whether Indian officials have any articulated "end game" to a war they might start by crossing into Pakistan - a war that Musharraf has said Pakistan would fight "to the last drop of blood." Indian officials have refused to comment publicly on whether they feel a "limited war" with Pakistan is possible.

Moreover, the heavier the Indian military buildup - even if designed as a public relations pressure tactic - the more difficult it will be for India to suddenly start a dialogue.

"There's an issue of pride, and, hard as it may be for some people to understand, they really seem to hate each other," a Western diplomat argues.

Whether Musharraf can control all of the radical elements in Pakistan is also unclear. One scenario in Delhi is that rogue elements from the Pakistani secret service, who do not want Musharraf in power, will create a series of incidents that will bring the two sides to blows.

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