India waits, but still war-ready

India details possible attack plan, as militant incursions continue in Kashmir.

In stark contrast to a week ago, when India and Pakistan seemed perched at the brink of nuclear war, today the nations of the subcontinent are finally talking about talking.

But as India takes incremental steps to normalize relations with Pakistan, such as recalling naval ships and nominating a diplomat to re-establish diplomatic ties with Islamabad, it is still primed for war.

"We will do whatever the government asks us to do. Our war strategy will depend on our circumstances.... Our principle targets would be terrorist-training areas and camps [in Pakistan- occupied Kashmir]," says Lt. Gen. V.G. Patankar, an Indian Army commander in Kashmir.

General Patankar estimates that 3,000 Islamic militants are now waiting to slip across the border.

The overall level of hostilities

are much reduced, but neither India nor Pakistan is contemplating a major pullback of the nearly 1 million troops now posted along both sides of the 1,800-mile long Indo-Pakistani border and in particular the 450-mile cease-fire line known as the Line of Control (LOC).

Indian analysts and military sources warn that the Indo-Pakistani crisis over Kashmir is far from over, and even US officials admit that until both nations pull back their troops, the danger of a massive brutal conventional war remains.

"India has to be skeptical about the US mission and the possible intentions of Gen. Pervez Musharraf," says J.N. Dixit, former ambassador to Pakistan in 1988 to 1991, and former Indian foreign secretary from 1991 to 1994. "And we will remain skeptical until we see appropriate actions are taken on the ground."

General Patankar, who commands one of the most sensitive sectors in Indian Jammu and Kashmir, says waiting is nothing new for the India. He says that in 1971, the Indian Army waited for months to launch military action against Pakistan.

Patankar admitted for the first time that an Indian military action would focus on attacking militant infrastructure in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir.

Patankar says the Indian Military Intelligence and the G Branch (intelligence wing of the paramilitary Border Security Force) have reported that there has been a slight reduction, but no dramatic drop, in the infiltration of militants from Pakistan since May 27. "Nothing has changed along the Line of Control," says Patankar.

While militant groups based in Pakistan vowed to continue their guerrilla insurgency in Kashmir, and India's Border Security Force reported that some 10 infiltrations occurred last week, US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said that the Pakistani leader, General Musharraf, "has made a very firm commitment to everything he can do to limit infiltration across the Line of Control permanently."

Perhaps more troubling are reports that Al Qaeda militants may have relocated from the Afghan border area to the Pakistani side of the Line of Control.

"I have seen indications that the Al Qaeda is operating near the Line of Control," Rumsfeld told reporters in New Delhi on Wednesday. To help monitor the border, Rumsfeld reportedly offered India a US-built monitoring system of ground sensors to measure infiltrations and help the Indian forces locate key transit points.

"This is what most worries us," says P.R. Chari, a defense analyst at the Institute for Peace and Conflict Studies in New Delhi. "These chaps in groups of eight to 10 could be suicide attackers, especially in the coming elections ... in Kashmir."

Last week the Indian Army in Kashmir paraded, for the international and national press, many recently captured Pakistani militants who they say were trained by Pakistan's Inter Services Intelligence (ISI). Col. Atul Joshi, whose battalion is actively engaged in counterinsurgency operations in Sopore in Indian Kashmir, says "Musharraf had said in his January 12 speech that infiltration had stopped, but that's not true."

In fact, on Tuesday the British foreign secretary said that Pakistan's ISI had direct links with terrorist groups such as Lashkar-i-Tayyaba and Jaish-e-Muhammad, both of which are active in Indian Kashmir. A Pakistani militant, Ghulam Ashraf, currently in the custody of Colonel Joshi's battalion told reporters on Saturday that "the ISI was involved from recruiting to pushing terrorists into Indian Kashmir from across the Line of Control."

According to Patankar, Indian intelligence reveals that there are 3,000 militants waiting to attack, divided into two groups.

One third of these militants are "embedded" within Pakistani Army posts along the LOC; the rest are in separate camps managed by the Army and the ISI, Patankar says. According to a senior Army officer, Pakistan is helping militants infiltrate through new routes. According to the Indian Army intelligence, the new routes are through "the desert swamps of the Rann of Kutch in the Indian state of Gujarat, which has a long border with Pakistan, and through Nepal and Bangladesh. However, in terms of numbers, the infiltration from these new routes is still quite small as compared to the Line of Control."

Patankar says that the Indian Army has monitored the entire process of infiltration facilitated by the Pakistani Army. According to Patankar, the process is as follows: "From the holding areas, the ISI trained terrorists are brought forward to the staging areas," he says. "In small numbers, the terrorists are brought to Pakistani Army posts along the Line of Control. These posts are the launching pads to "launch" the terrorists across the LOC under the covering fire provided by the Pakistani artillery and small-arms fire of the Pakistani Army border units."

Sometimes the militants are launched during inclement weather conditions, Pantankar says, to thwart detection by the Indian Army posts.

For Musharraf, "dismantling those camps will be putting his hand into a bottle of scorpions," says Sumit Ganguly, a US-based political and defense analyst. "Before those October elections, he's not going to stick his hand in there."

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