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South Asia Under Clouds of Nuclear War.....
by Saima Alvi
15 May 2002 10:22 UTC
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15 May 2002  Wednesday  

NEW YORK, May 14: India's defence minister, George Fernandes said in an 
interview with the New York Times on Monday that India had no plans to 
launch a military attack over the next few months even if severely 

He is so far the first and only senior Indian official to offer such 
assurances, the Times said. 

As the US assistant secretary of state, Christina Rocca, arrived in New 
Delhi in an effort to defuse border tensions between the two countries the 
Times said: "The Indian government now faces an excruciating choice. It 
must decide whether to follow through on its threat to take military action 
against Pakistan, or subject itself to the withering charge from its 
political opposition, as well as from triumphant Pakistani generals, that 
India was just bluffing." 

The Times also said that Jaswant Singh, the minister of external affairs, 
refused to say what India will do. "Don't ask me this question," he 
said. "It's not fair. As a responsible member of this government, frankly I 
cannot answer this question." 

Singh, however, was unequivocal in stating that Gen Musharraf had gone back 
on his promise of a crackdown on the groups India accused of attacking its 
parliament. "Their leadership is now freed, it lives in houses and gets 
paid an allowance by the government of Pakistan," he told the paper. 

Fernandes said India would not take military action against Pakistan at 
least until state elections were held in Kashmir, probably in 
September. "We do not want the elections to be disrupted at any cost," he 

Historically, elections in Kashmir have been marred by vote rigging and 
fraud and alienating Kashmiris. 

Other Indian officials have privately told the United States that India is 
fast approaching the time when it will have to decide if it wanted to take 
military action, some American officials were quoted as saying. 

Western diplomats and American officials say that it is a perilous moment 
on the subcontinent. One senior western diplomat here put the odds of a 
military conflict at even or better. 

"We're approaching the crunch time in testing Pakistani intentions," he 
said. "There is a risk of war," US undersecretary of defence Douglas Feith 
said in a speech in Washington today. "You're talking about two countries 
with nuclear weapons, so the risks are very large. We're focused on 
defusing those tensions." 

The Times said under American pressure President Gen Pervez Musharraf has 
since pledged a bold crackdown on Islamic extremists in his country, 
including the groups that India blamed in connection with the parliament 
attack and groups that have sent fighters across the border into Kashmir. 

Indian officials said they would wait until May, when the snows begins to 
melt in the Himalayan region, to judge whether Gen Musharraf had made good 
on his word. Indian intelligence officials now say the number of militants 
sneaking across the border in March and April was about the same as in the 
previous two years, the paper noted. 

Officials from the home and defence ministries say 2,000 militants are 
spread out along the Pakistani side of the so- called Line of Control that 
divides Kashmir between Pakistan and India. 

"We have no doubt whatsoever that they are massed there to cross into our 
territory," Fernandes told the paper. "This can happen at any time - by the 
end of this month or early next month." 

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