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Tension Mounts Between Archenemies India and Pakistan

February 5, 1996

POONCH, India (AP) _ After two weeks of intense gun battles across one of the world’s most dangerous frontiers, Maj. Gen. G.K. Duggal was in a foul mood.

Pointing toward a Pakistani outpost on a nearby mountain peak, Duggal said the soldiers there had fired three small rockets at his base along the Kashmir cease-fire line.

``The Pakistanis plan to target our posts again,″ probably with heavier anti-tank missiles, he said. ``If that happens, it will be an act of escalation.″

Pakistan and India have fought two wars over Kashmir, which was divided between the two countries when they were formed at the end of British colonial rule in 1947. The Indian part of Kashmir, Jammu-Kashmir state, is the only majority Muslim state in India.

But the recent fighting was some of the worst in years, and it comes at a time of rising tensions between the two archenemies.

Twenty-five people were killed before the fighting tapered off last week, including 20 who died when a rocket hit a village mosque across the border. Each side says the other fired the rocket; U.N. observers are investigating.

The conflict is especially significant because each country is believed to have a well-developed nuclear weapons program _ and each is building up its arsenal.

Ignoring warnings from the United States, India test-fired its new Prithvi ballistic missile on Jan 27. The missile, with a range of 155 miles, is capable of carrying a nuclear bomb to Pakistan.

U.S. spy satellites reportedly picked up signs in late December that India was planning an underground nuclear test blast, and President Clinton warned that if that happened the United States would cut off virtually all aid and urge other donors to do the same.

India denied that it was planning a nuclear test, but the main opposition party, which has been gaining ground in state elections, is pro-nuclear and polls indicate that most Indians would approve of a nuclear test.

Pakistan is believed to be capable of building nuclear weapons. India accuses China of helping Pakistan develop nuclear capability.

At about the same time as the missile test, Indian Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao proudly displayed the nation’s new Arjun tank. Pakistan, meanwhile, is developing a battle tank with help from the Chinese.

The tensions in Kashmir make the arms race all the more ominous.

At a V-shaped section of the frontier known as ``the chicken neck,″ Border Security Force officer K.S. Vohra warned that fighting could resume at any moment because talks last week failed to reach an agreement.

At the talks, he said, Pakistan demanded that India drop a plan to build a fence along the entire front line. When India refused, he said, Pakistani negotiators warned: ``If you put up a single picket, we will open fire.″

In Pakistan, Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto called a one-day strike Monday in support of separatist rebels in the Indian part of Kashmir. Stores and financial institutions were closed, and city buses stayed off the streets. Government and opposition politicians held rallies in major cities, and in Islamabad, the capital, demonstrators burned effigies of Rao.

In a televised address Sunday, Bhutto offered _ as she has in the past _ to meet with Indian officials to discuss how to end the war.

But India considers the Kashmiri rebel uprising - in which 12,000 people have died since 1989 _ to be an internal affair, and sees Pakistan as an aggressor for supporting the rebels. In the past, India has refused to meet with Pakistani officials if Kashmir is on the agenda.

The two countries haven’t had high-level talks about their problems since early 1994, and the fighting over the last two weeks indicates things are only getting worse.

``It probably is only saber rattling, and isn’t likely to lead to a full-scale war,″ said Brahma Chellaney, a security researcher at the Center for Policy Research in New Delhi. ``But I hope stronger political leadership will emerge in both countries and begin improving the situation.″

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