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Pakistan: Musharraf Due To Address Nation As Crisis With India Escalates

  • Ron Synovitz

Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf is due to make a televised speech to his country tonight about increasingly tense relations with India. The speech comes on the third day of test launches for Pakistani missiles that are capable of carrying nuclear warheads. RFE/RL reports on the latest developments ahead of Musharraf's speech.

Prague, 27 May 2002 (RFE/RL) -- A nationally televised speech is planned for tonight by Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf in an apparent attempt to rally political support from the country's main opposition parties.

Musharraf says the purpose of tonight's speech is to "take the country into confidence." He has not elaborated on details. But Musharraf is expected to focus on the growing tensions between his country and India over the disputed region of Kashmir.

Correspondents on the Line of Control that divides Kashmir between Pakistan and India report an intensification today in the cross-border shelling that has been going on between the two armies for the last week.

The rhetoric from the leaders of the two countries also has been heating up in recent days. Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee told his troops on the Line of Control last week that "the time has come for a decisive battle." Musharraf has threatened to "take the offensive into Indian territory" if a war breaks out with India.

During the weekend, Pakistan tested two missiles that are capable of carrying either conventional or nuclear warheads into northern India.

On 25 May -- the Muslim holiday marking the birth of the Prophet Mohammed -- Musharraf announced that the medium-range Ghauri missile had been launched successfully. The Ghauri missile has a range of 1,440 kilometers -- enough to travel from Pakistan's launch sites to eight major cities in northern India, including the capital of New Delhi: "I want to tell the nation today, on the day of the Prophet's birthday, that we have successfully tested the [Ghauri] missile."

Yesterday, Pakistan continued with its missile tests by launching a new short-range missile called the Ghaznavi. It has a range of about 290 kilometers -- enough to reach the Pakistan-India border regions where about 1 million troops from the two sides have been deployed. Musharraf says there will be additional tests today and tomorrow.

India's Foreign Ministry responded to the missile tests by saying that it is "not perturbed." New Delhi claims the missiles were purchased secretly by Islamabad rather than being developed by its own scientists. Pakistan denies that claim, saying it developed the missiles on its own.

Indian officials also dismissed the importance of the timing of Pakistan's missile tests. They say Islamabad informed New Delhi about the scheduled tests several weeks ago.

India conducted its own missile tests in January after suspected Islamic militants from Pakistan launched bomb attacks against the parliament in New Delhi and against political targets in Srinagar -- the summer capital of Indian-administered Kashmir.

But as Pakistan continues its testing this week, Musharraf is coming under increased foreign pressure to stop Islamic militants from crossing into India and the Indian-administered part of Kashmir.

The Indian Foreign Ministry says Islamabad is using terrorism in an attempt to either achieve outright independence for the Indian-administered part of Kashmir or to bring all of Kashmir into a union with Pakistan.

Indian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Nirupama Rao reiterated those complaints yesterday, indicating that the situation appears to be gravitating toward war: "The actions of Pakistan fit into the international community's worst nightmare scenarios of a state sponsor of terrorist activity, armed with ballistic missile technology and nuclear weaponry."

In Paris yesterday, U.S. President George W. Bush issued his most critical public remarks to date about Musharraf -- a key ally in the U.S.-led campaign against the Taliban and Al-Qaeda in neighboring Afghanistan.

Bush told reporters in Paris that he sees infiltration by Pakistani terrorists into Indian-administered Kashmir as the root cause of the crisis. The U.S. president also said he is more concerned about such cross-border terrorist attacks than he is about Pakistan's ongoing missile tests: "Pakistan, yes. We expressed deep concern and we will continue to express concern about [missile] testing. And I'm more concerned about insisting -- along with other world leaders -- that [Pakistan's] President Musharraf show results in terms of stopping people from crossing the Line of Control [in Kashmir]. Stopping terrorism. That's what is more important than the missile testing -- that he perform."

Washington is sending Assistant Secretary of State Richard Armitage to the region next week in a bid to resolve the crisis diplomatically.

Britain also is using heavy pressure and diplomatic talks to urge Pakistan to do more to crack down on Islamic militants. Many Western analysts say the infiltrations into Indian-administered Kashmir would not be possible without direct support from Pakistan's army and intelligence service. British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw is due to arrive in Islamabad tomorrow.

Russia also is taking a role in diplomatic efforts to avert war. Russian President Vladimir Putin said on 25 May that he would invite Musharraf and Vajpayee to hold a one-on-one meeting on the sidelines of a meeting of Asian leaders in Kazakhstan early next month. Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Anatolii Safanov arrived in Islamabad today with the formal invitation.

But while Musharraf has already indicated his willingness to attend, Indian Prime Minister Vajpayee is not yet committed. Authorities in New Delhi say Musharraf must first bring an end to cross-border incursions by Islamic militants before there are any direct talks on the Kashmir crisis.