The State Dept. said in a travel warning, ”Tensions have risen to serious levels and the risk of intensified military hostilities between India and Pakistan cannot be ruled out.” The statement referred to deteriorating conditions in the disputed territory of Kashmir.
“Artillery firing along the line of control has caused death and injury in that area. Terrorist groups, some of which are linked to al-Qaida and have previously been implicated in attacks on Americans, are active there as well, and have attacked and killed civilians,” the warning said.
The State Dept. urged all nonessential personnel and their families to voluntarily depart on commercial flights at the U.S. government’s expense. There has been no clear indication of how many Americans plan to leave India.
Nonessential U.S. staff have already been ordered out of Pakistan, where Americans are also considered to be at risk from militants linked to al-Qaida. The State Dept. also advised the several thousand Americans in Pakistan to leave as well.
Other Western nations, including Britain, have followed suit, urging their nationals to leave the region.
In Pakistan, the government began redeploying several thousand troops from its border with Afghanistan, where they were assisting U.S.-led forces in the search for al-Qaida members, to the opposite side of the country to fortify its border with India.
The two adversaries have massed one million soldiers along the border from the Himalayas to the Arabian Sea.
Despite word of Pakistani troop movements, Indian Defense Minister George Fernandes said the situation between the historic rivals remains “stable.”
“There isn’t any change on the ground,” Fernandes told The Associated Press early Friday.
But other officials have anonymously warned that India believes a large number of al-Qaida militants fled Afghanistan and joined the Islamic separatists near the disputed Kashmir region.
“There are a plethora of reports from premier [intelligence] agencies that al-Qaida has merged with terrorist camps [near Kashmir],” an unnamed senior Indian defense official told Reuters.
President Bush announced Thursday he will dispatch Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to the region next week to try to defuse the intensifying conflict. In the meantime, Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage will meet with Indian and Pakistani leaders on Tuesday.
The president also demanded that Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf — a major U.S. ally in the anti-terror war in Afghanistan — “live up to his word” and clamp down on extremists’ incursions into the Indian-side of Kashmir.
“[Musharraf] must stop the incursions across the line of control,” the president said. “He must do so. He said he would do so. We and others are making it clear to him that he must live up to his word.”