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South Asia: India Reacts Angrily To Musharraf's Speech

  • Ron Synovitz

The Indian government has responded with angry words to a speech yesterday by Pakistan's military ruler, General Pervez Musharraf, on tensions over Kashmir. Musharraf said his nuclear-capable country will not start a war with India, but added Pakistan will fight with its "full might" if attacked. Today, Indian Foreign Secretary Jaswant Singh characterized the comments as "disappointing and dangerous."

Prague, 28 May 2002 (RFE/RL) -- The Indian government has responded with angry words to the latest speech by Pakistan's military ruler, General Pervez Musharraf, about tensions over Kashmir.

Indian Foreign Secretary Jaswant Singh told reporters in New Delhi today Musharraf's remarks were both "disappointing and dangerous."

Rather than making conciliatory efforts to ease tensions, Singh said Musharraf fueled the crisis further between the two nuclear-capable countries.

"His Excellency General Pervez Musharraf's television address of 27 May is both disappointing and dangerous -- disappointing as it merely repeats some earlier assurances [to take action against Islamic militants in Pakistan] which remain unfulfilled until today, and dangerous because, through belligerent posturing, tension has been added, not reduced," Singh said.

In his speech, Musharraf said Pakistan does not want war but is ready to respond with full force if attacked. Musharraf rejected India's allegations that Islamabad is sponsoring infiltrations across the Line of Control in Kashmir by Islamic militants.

"Pakistan does not want war. Pakistan will not be the one to initiate war. We want peace in the region. Pakistan is doing nothing across the Line of Control, and Pakistan will never allow the export of terrorism anywhere in the world from within Pakistan," Musharraf said.

But the Indian foreign secretary today rejected Musharraf's denial as "untenable."

"General Musharraf has disappointingly spelled out no measures for stopping this lethal export of terrorism from Pakistan. Mere verbal denials about the Line of Control are untenable, for they run against facts on the ground," Singh said.

India and Pakistan have fought three wars over disputed Kashmir in the past 50 years. During the past 12 years, Islamic militants have been conducting attacks in the Indian-administered part of the region in an attempt either to win independence from India or to bring about a union between all of Kashmir and Pakistan.

New Delhi considers the militants to be terrorists, while authorities in Pakistan consistently refer to them as "freedom fighters."

Since the last war over Kashmir, both India and Pakistan have developed nuclear weapons. In January, India conducted successful test flights of missiles that are capable of carrying nuclear warheads from India to Pakistan's largest cities.

Islamabad today completed a third and final test of short-range and medium-range missiles that are able to carry nuclear warheads from Pakistan to eight major cities in northern India, including the capital New Delhi.

Singh today said Pakistan now poses a dual threat of holding nuclear weapons and, in his words, creating "base camps" that export terrorism to countries around the world.

"Let the world recognize that today the epicenter of international terrorism is located in Pakistan. Terrorists targeting not just India but other countries, too, receive support from state structures within Pakistan. The current war against terrorism will not be won decisively until their base camps inside Pakistan are closed permanently," Singh said.

Singh criticized Musharraf for failing to speak directly about the issue that New Deli says is the central to the crisis: alleged support by state structures in Pakistan for terrorist attacks in Kashmir and elsewhere.

"Evading altogether the central issue of Pakistan's promotion of terrorism, the general [Musharraf] unfortunately engaged instead in an offensive and tasteless revilement of India. A great pity, this, for it contradicts his own expressed desire for peace," Singh said.

Other political figures and analysts in India say Musharraf appeared hostile, provocative, and defiant as he delivered his speech last night.

Indian Defense Minister George Fernandes said India and Pakistan have not yet come to the brink of war. But with a million soldiers now deployed along both sides of the India-Pakistan border, Fernandes said the situation is dangerous. He called Musharraf's speech "unhelpful."

In Islamabad, analysts say domestic political pressure gives Musharraf little room to make conciliatory gestures toward India.

Aqil Shah, a specialist on South Asia at the Islamabad office of the International Crisis Group, told RFE/RL that Musharraf is under pressure to take a firm position in the face of what many Pakistanis see as saber rattling by New Delhi.

"Public opinion in Pakistan is that Pakistan must flex its muscles to send a message across [to India] and I think Musharraf is basically responding to that. More than conciliatory, I think it was kind of inflammatory," Shah said.

Shah said the nature of Musharraf's tone is understandable when one considers his intended audience. "Principally, I think it was aimed toward his domestic audience. That's why I think he was coming across as very defiant and aggressive."

Shah agreed with the assessment of Indian officials that there was little in Musharraf's speech that he hadn't already said in January when he promised to launch a crackdown militant Islamic organizations

"I didn't hear any conciliatory tones in [last night's] speech, per se. There were things that he said which he had said before -- mostly, rhetorical claims about not allowing Paksitani territory to be used for launching terrorist activities against other states," Shah said.

British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw met Pakistani leaders in Islamabad today in an attempt to ease the tensions. He called on Musharraf to put an end to cross-border terrorism that exacerbates Pakistan's confrontation with India.

Straw plans to meet tomorrow in New Delhi with Indian leaders.