WASHINGTON – State Department officials say a new travel warning has been drafted urging American citizens in India and Pakistan to leave the region. The document is expected to be released Tuesday, but could not be confirmed.
Officials say the new warning does not affect the level of departure orders for diplomats, who last week were told that unless they are non-essential personnel, they and their families should voluntarily leave. Diplomats and their dependents were ordered to leave Pakistan in March following the bombing of a church in the diplomatic area. However, the latest warning is aimed strictly at private Americans.
One official said that the new language reflects even greater concern about the volatility of the conflict between India and Pakistan, which are in a protracted dispute over the Muslim-dominated territory of Kashmir, ceded to India when the two states gained independence from Britain in 1947. The two sides have gone to war three times over the territory, which has been demarcated by a line of control since 1972.
An example of the language that will be changed is that previous warnings urged U.S. citizens to "consider" departing the country — this one is expected to say they "should depart."
There are about 60,000 U.S. citizens in India and several thousand in Pakistan.
Customarily, the United States does not order Americans to leave a country, and the warnings for India and Pakistan leave it to the Americans there to decide for themselves. In 1986, however, President Reagan ordered American citizens to leave Libya or face prison terms and fines.
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage are headed separately to the region to try to avert war between the nuclear neighbors. The two sides have built up their troops along the border, and American officials are concerned that a war would not only severely damage the region but could also set back the war on terror.
Secretary of State Colin Powell, at a news conference in Barbados where he attended an Organization of American States foreign ministers meeting, said he was heartened that both India and Pakistan have played down the possible use of nuclear weapons.
"It would be absolutely horrible in the year 2002 for any nation to use nuclear weapons in a situation such as this," Powell said.
Fox News' Teri Schultz and the Associated Press contributed to this report.