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India, Pakistan Put Their Missles on Alert

Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee told his country to prepare for a possible war.

“We do not want war, but war is being thrust on us and we will have to face it,” he said Tuesday during a public address.

Pakistan has said it is “fully prepared” to respond to any attack.

“Let me assure my countrymen that your armed forces are fully prepared and capable of defeating all challenges,” Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf said Tuesday in a speech commemorating the 125th birthday of Pakistan’s founder.

Indian Defense Minister George Fernandes told an Indian media outlet that “missile systems are in position,” and Indian air force jets have been seen flying over the 2,070 mile border with Pakistan every few minutes. Indian and Pakistani news organizations reported that Pakistani missiles have also been put on alert, and that troops from both sides have been moving toward the border.

The missile systems in both countries can be converted to deliver nuclear warheads, but there has been no indication that either side has taken such action.

Pakistani and Indian forces have been exchanging daily machine gun and mortar fire over the military line dividing Kashmir, the disputed Himalayan territory over which India and Pakistan have fought two wars since 1947.

Tensions between the two nuclear powers have intensified since India accused Pakistan’s intelligence agency of sponsoring a Dec. 13 attack on the New Delhi parliament building that killed 14 people, including the five Pakistani assailants.

India has implicated a Pakistan-based guerrilla organization, the Lashkar-e-Tayyiba, in the Dec. attack and another group, the Jaish-e-Mohammed, in an Oct. 1 attack on the Srinigar legislature in Indian-controlled Jammu-Kashmir that killed 38 people.

India has demanded that Pakistani authorities terminate the activities of those groups, arrest the leaders and hand them over to India.

In response, Pakistan froze the assets of both militant organizations on Monday and Pakistani authorities Tuesday briefly detained Maulana Azhar Masood, leader of the Jaish-e-Mohammed.

But India said the moves were insufficient in light of the deadly attack and Pakistan’s purported stance against terrorism.

“It is not adequate. Still much more needs to be done,” Indian foreign ministry spokeswoman Nirupama Rao said. “It doesn’t seem to go far enough to address our concerns.”

Musharraf condemned the attack on the New Delhi parliament, but said he would not act against the Kashmiri separatist organizations without proof of their guilt.

Hoping to avoid military action, India’s security Cabinet met today to discuss “further diplomatic offensives,” Indian Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh said. Those next steps could include a ban on Pakistan airline flights, abrogation of a water treaty, downgrading of embassies, or a cancellation of Pakistan’s “most favored nation” trading status.

India initiated its diplomatic offensive on Friday, when it recalled India’s ambassador to Pakistan and terminated all bus and rail services between the two countries.

Despite his reluctance to shut down the Kashmiri separatist organizations, Musharraf denounced the extremist militant groups for degrading the international perception of Pakistan and for staining the image of Islam, saying they “have undermined Islam to a level that people of the world associate it with illiteracy, backwardness, intolerance… and militancy.”

Musharraf’s pledge to retaliate against an external offensive was accompanied by a promise to avert internal conflict wrought by extremist groups fighting in the name of Islam.

“No wicked, bigoted extremist will be allowed to derail us, and we, the vast, silent majority, must vow not be voiceless, passive onlookers to our own internal destruction,” Musharraf said.

The role of the United States

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell today announced that the two Pakistan-based militant groups India has accused of orchestrating attacks are on the United States’ list of terrorist organizations.

“As the recent horrific attacks against the Indian parliament and the Srinagar legislative assembly so clearly show, the Lashkar-e-Tayyiba, Jaish-e-Mohammed, and their ilk seek to assault democracy, undermine peace and stability in South Asia and destroy relations between India and Pakistan,” Powell said.

Powell’s action makes it illegal for anyone in the United States to provide material support to the two groups, requires U.S. financial institutions to block the groups’ assets, and allows the State Department to deny visas to representatives of the groups.

The United States has backed India’s demands that Pakistan act decisively against the guerrilla groups operating there, although it does not have any concrete evidence against them.

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