President George W. Bush is reported by DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s sources in Washington, New Delhi and Islamabad, as having resigned himself to Indian-Pakistani frictions erupting into a frontal war. Every diplomatic attempt by Washington to avert the conflagration has run aground; its efforts now focus on keeping the conflict short and contained and preventing it from sliding into full-scale or nuclear belligerence
Here is how matters stand as we go to press.
1. The US administration has extracted little from the Indian prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee beyond a tacit undertaking to keep the military conflict within bounds. However the prime minister held back the commitment Washington demanded to refrain from launching military operations outside Kashmir’s borders. He thus dashed American hopes that India would be satisfied with a series of aerial bombardments and ground actions against Muslim rebel and paramilitary bases inside Kashmir.
India’s military plans are more extensive. Its military leaders will try and seize control of the mountain border passes from Indian Kashmir to Pakistan, as well as attacking bases inside Pakistan near the Kashmir frontier. They are also thinking in terms of brief, aerial strikes against a small cluster of bases deep inside Pakistan, including Baluchistan. The Indian navy, moreover, plans to strike a number of bases along Pakistan’s southern Arabian Sea coast.
Messages flying from Washington to Delhi continue to emphasize that the US government is opposed to any Indian military action outside Kashmir.
2. India forwarded to Islamabad via the United States an ultimatum demanding the immediate dismantling of the Kashmir Desk of Pakistan’s Inter-Services-Intelligence agency and a military crackdown against the Pakistani groups pouring fighters and weapons into Kashmir. India also requires an immediate repetition of the tough campaign Pakistan instituted under US pressure against Pakistani Muslim groups supporting al Qaeda.
Pakistan was called upon furthermore to detain and remove from the disputed territory all the Pakistani military intelligence officers present in Kashmir, whether or not they are still army personnel. Details of their presence in the disputed region were disclosed on April 26 in DEBKA-Net-Weekly Issue No. 58.
3. The Pakistanis categorically rejected the Indian ultimatum.
President Pervez Musharraf informed Washington that he would hold his army down to a limited military response to an Indian offensive, on condition that India does not step out of the borders of Kashmir. But if India strikes inside Pakistan proper, Mesharraf will resort to nuclear weapons against military and strategic targets inside India.
Upon forwarding his reply to India via Washington, Musharraf ordered Pakistan’s nuclear-tipped missiles to be deployed in their launch locations.
Washington passed the Pakistani warning to India, urging Delhi to take it seriously.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s sources have learned that the Americans pointed out that, while India has a clear military preponderance over Pakistan, Pakistani nuclear missiles are more powerful and accurate than comparable weapons in India’s arsenal.
4. Some Indian feathers were ruffled by US official remarks, which may be why New Delhi sent a sharply worded reply early this week.
According to DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s sources in New Delhi, Vajpayee informed Washington that his army chiefs do not believe Pakistan will resort to atomic weapons and that intelligence information indicates Pakistan’s reported nuclear missile deployment is mere bluff and a scare tactic. At the same time, the Indian leader took the precaution of tagging on a warning that India would unleash the full might of its nuclear arsenal against Pakistani territory – destroying large parts of the country — if Islamabad fires nuclear weapons against Indian targets in Kashmir or anywhere else.
5. Despite every effort by the United States, India and Pakistan to keep the information under tight wraps, DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s sources have discovered who carried out the attacks against Indian units in Kashmir, including the May 14 assault on the Indian army base at Kaluchak, six miles south of the winter capital of Jammu, that killed more than 30 people, many of them the wives and children of soldiers on the front line. India has proof that the assailants were hundreds of al Qaeda Arab fighters who have been moving from place to place in the valleys of Kashmir since the first thaw of the winter snows in the mountain passes in early April. New Delhi has been plying Washington with this intelligence data. Indian troops have picked up many of these fighters, who are hiding up in caves and atop mountains. They were astonished to find that none were Pakistani. They included a large number of Egyptians and Saudis, who confessed under interrogation that they had received their orders, destinations, money, weapons and ammunition at the hands of former “Afghanistan desk” officers of the Pakistani SIS.
Pakistan totally rejects India’s accusation as made out of whole cloth.