US defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld said after talks with Indian prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee in New Delhi on Wednesday, June 12, that he has seen indications of al Qaeda activity in Kashmir, although he has no specific information about the identities of the terrorist group’s operatives, their numbers or locations.
Anxious to highlight Rumsfeld’s statement, the Indians immediately leaked information that their intelligence services had intercepted radio transmissions from two al Qaeda groups operating inside the province. According to New Delhi, one group is in the Bandipore area in northern Kashmir and the second in Khag Beeru, in central Kashmir.
But within 24 hours, after his talks in Islamabad with Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf, Rumsfeld backtracked, declaring his information on the al Qaeda presence in Kashmir was “speculative and unverifiable”.
According to DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s sources in New Delhi and Islamabad, Rumsfeld’s self-contradictions may have been an attempt to cover a diplomatic misstep. They may also signify a worrying gap in his understanding of the situation between the two nuclear adversaries. A more realistic explanation would be that the US official simply lost patience with the bickering between Indian and Pakistani leaders and decided to stop digressing from his primary mission of de-escalating the war threat.
What Rumsfeld did was to inform Vajpayee and Musharraf in blunt terms that the United States, caught up as it is in a global battle against terrorism, refuses to countenance a full-scale war on the subcontinent. Should one erupt, Rumsfeld cautioned the two leaders, Washington would hold both equally responsible and take punitive steps.
Knowledgeable sources in New Delhi and Islamabad told DEBKA-Net-Weekly that, while Vajpayee and Musharraf understood Rumsfeld’s threat to be serious, neither was prepared to budge an inch from his position. Both are convinced war is unavoidable, whether this summer or several weeks hence. DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s military sources disclose that, as soon as Rumsfeld left the region, the Indian and Pakistani rulers ordered their respective military chiefs to maintain battle alert and continue to prepare for war.
At the same time, DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s Gulf sources reveal a fresh source of tension in Kashmir – this time between Pakistan and Iran. Over last weekend, Musharraf toured moderate Gulf emirates and Saudi Arabia to win their leaders round to the Pakistani cause. He said he came as a Muslim leader seeking help from fellow Muslims in confronting Hindu India, adding that he had taken the regional lead in stemming the spread of Iranian influence in the Gulf and Indian subcontinent.
Musharraf, attended by Pakistani generals, specifically told the Saudi crown prince Abdullah that the Pakistani military was capable of defeating the larger Indian army unaided. However, he feared that Iran, impelled by its spiritual leader Ayatollah ali Khamenei, would take advantage of Pakistan’s preoccupation with the war against India to move Iranian troops into Kashmir and Baluchistan and stir up the local Shiite populace to rise up against Islamabad.
Much in the way Vajpayee shared intelligence data with Rumsfeld on the al Qaeda presence in Kashmir, Musharraf showed Abdullah evidence of Iranian Revolutionary Guards intelligence officers turning up in the Indian-controlled Kargil province of Kashmir. Some, he said, had come from Lebanon, fresh from training Hizballah fighters in guerrilla warfare and the operation of an array of missiles, ranging from anti-tank to anti-aircraft. Musharraf said it was up to the Saudis, the Gulf States and Pakistan to limit Iran’s push into the Indian subcontinent, lest this expansion be mirrored in other directions, such as the Persian Gulf.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s sources note that the Pakistani ruler misaddressed his appeal. Abdullah leads the pro-Teheran line in Riyadh and is working towards a rapprochement between the kingdom and Iran. His reply hardly satisfied the visitor from Islamabad, merely that Saudi Arabia would stand by Pakistan in its dispute with India.