Pakistani Missile Test Seen as War Provocation
Pakistan’s medium-range missile test on Saturday, May 25, was conducted the day after Indian prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee went off for a weekend rest in the hills, hinting he might give Pakistan another two months to crack down on Muslim militants stirring the flames in Kashmir. The nuclear-capable Ghauri missile, the first of a test series lasting till Tuesday, flew 900 miles, far enough to reach deep inside India. Announcing the launch, Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf told a religious gathering in Islamabad marking the birthday of the Prophet Mohammed: The missile showed “total accuracy”. It hit the target, he said, intoning Allah-o-Akbar, three times.
He also declared: “We don’t want war, but we are ready for war.”
From Manali, in the Himalayan foothills, Vajpayee urged world governments to press Pakistan to crack down on cross-border terrorism, saying India had waited far too long for Pakistan to act. He said he had written to leaders of France,Russia and the United States to put pressure on Pakistan.
Both India and Pakistan are on a war footing, with more than 1 million troops glaring at each other across their border, as tension in the disputed Himalayan state of Kashmir continues to accelerate. The nuclear-armed powers have been locked in a military standoff since the December attack on India’s parliament in New Delhi, the friction aggravated by an attack on May 14 by Islamic bands on the Kaluchak Indian army camp in Kashmir, in which 34 people were killed, mostly soldiers’ wives and children. Since then, cross-border shelling has killed dozens in divided Kashmir, sending hundreds fleeing from their homes.
In St. Petersburg, Russia, the concerned Presidents George W. Bush and Vladimir Putin both turned to Musharref with a demand to ease tensions. Bush demanded that the Pakistani leader keep his January promise to crack down on Islamic militants staging attacks in Kashmir. Putin invited Musharraf and Vajpayee to a peace conference next month in Moscow.China’s foreign minister Tang Jiaxuan phoned his Indian counterpart to urge the “highest degree of restraint”.
debkafile reports from its sources in New Delhi that Indian intelligence has been directed by the prime minister to scour the Middle East and the Persian Gulf for every scrap of information linking Iraqi ruler Saddam Hussein with the Pakistani president, and Iraqi military intelligence with Pakistan’s Inter-Services-Intelligence agency. These findings, the Indian government intends to put before the US government as a lever for forcing Musharraf to clamp down on Muslim extremists operating in Kashmir. If that does not work, India will resort to military action.
debkafile‘s sources quotes Indian circles as alleging that hundreds of al Qaeda Arab fighters are among those assailants. These Muslim terrorists are said to be roaming round the valleys of Kashmir ever since the first thaw in the mountain passes in early April, sheltering in caves. Indian troops have picked up many of these fighters, astonished to find a large number of Egyptians and Saudis, who confessed under interrogation that they had received their orders, destinations, money, weapons and ammunition from former “Afghanistan desk” officers of the Pakistani SIS.
This intelligence has been passed from New Delhi to Washington.
Thus far, the US president has not obtained an Indian undertaking to confine any military action to Muslim rebel and paramilitary bases inside Kashmir alone. Indian military leaders are eyeing bases inside Pakistan itself near the Kashmir frontier – or even deeper inside the country.
As for Pakistan, Musharraf informed Washington that he would hold his army down to a limited military response to an Indian offensive, only if India does not step out of the borders of Kashmir. But if India strikes inside Pakistan proper, Pakistan would wield its nuclear might against military and strategic targets inside India.
The Indian leader countered with a warning that if Islamabad fires nuclear weapons against Indian targets in Kashmir – or anywhere else – India would unleash the full might of its nuclear arsenal against Pakistani territory – destroying large parts of the country.