India Says Pakistani-Backed Militants Laying Low
NEW DELHI, India – With the United States and India pressing Pakistan to crack down on extremists, Pakistan-based Islamic militants fighting Indian forces in mostly Muslim Kashmir have been lying low lately, Indian officials said Sunday.
The 12-year fight between separatists and Indian troops in the disputed Himalayan province has killed tens of thousands of people and brought the nuclear-armed nations close to war in recent weeks after an attack on the Indian Parliament that India blames on the militants.
But with international attention focused on the growing tension between India and Pakistan and President Bush urging Islamabad to rein in extremists, Indian security officials in Kashmir said the insurgents have carried out few attacks in recent days.
"The militants are temporarily in hibernation," R.S. Bhullar, deputy inspector-general of India's Border Security Force, told The Associated Press. "Due to the pressure on Pakistan, the terrorists' mentors might have advised them not to take action."
In a telephone interview from Srinagar, the summer capital of Jammu-Kashmir state, Bhullar said there have been no suicide attacks or bomb blasts in recent days, calling it a "major slowdown in the on-ground militant activity."
However, police said gunmen forced their way into a home Saturday night in Kantha, a remote village 90 miles northwest of Jammu, the state's winter capital, and fatally shot a Hindu woman, two of her sons, and a visiting relative.
Small arms fire was reported early Sunday on the frontier near Jammu, but such skirmishes are common and military officials described the situation as calm. Both countries have rushed troops and heavy weapons to their 1,100-mile border since the Parliament attack Dec. 13.
Cross-border firing in Kashmir escalated in the wake of the Parliament attack, and at least 20,000 people have fled their homes or been evacuated on the Indian side.
The relative calm came a day after Bush spoke separately to Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Pakistan's president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, urging both leaders to work to reduce tensions.
Bush also urged Musharraf to "take additional strong and decisive measures to eliminate the extremists who seek to harm India, undermine Pakistan, provoke a war between India and Pakistan and destabilize the international coalition against terrorism," the White House said.
India has claimed the two groups it blamed for the Parliament raid — which killed 14 people including five attackers — had support from Pakistan's secret service, and it has demanded Musharraf shut the groups down and arrest and extradite their leaders.
Pakistan has denied any government involvement in the attack and has said that it would punish anyone proven responsible, but added that India has not provided proof of its claims the two militant groups carried it out.
Nonetheless, Pakistani police say they have arrested dozens of militants since the Parliament attack. But India's government said it will not halt its military mobilization unless Pakistan does more to stop militants based on its soil from carrying out attacks in India.
Still, Indian officials say there will be a war only if it is thrust on India. "What the government is trying today is diplomacy and nothing but diplomacy," Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pramod Mahajan told reporters Sunday.
In an interview published Sunday in The Hindustan Times newspaper, India's hawkish Defense Minister George Fernandes said there was no fear of a nuclear war between India and Pakistan — but starkly warned that if one were to break out, "Pakistan would be finished."
Both countries tested nuclear weapons in 1998, raising the stakes in their long-standing rivalry, but both sides have said there is no possibility that the current squabble will escalate into a nuclear war. Fernandes suggested India's capability surpasses its neighbor's.
"We could take a strike, survive and then hit back. Pakistan would be finished," the newspaper quoted him as saying. "I do not really fear that the nuclear issue would figure in a conflict."
In New Delhi, Vajpayee met with senior leaders of 11 political parties, including eight opposition groups and three providing legislative support to the ruling coalition, to consolidate political consensus amid the face-off with Pakistan.
"Nobody from the government side suggested any military aggression," Mahajan said.
Musharraf, meanwhile, gathered Pakistan's top politicians to discuss his response to tensions with India.
Gen. Rashid Quereshi, spokesman for Pakistan's military-led government, said the meeting was part of consultations with various sections of society, including Islamic clerics, to discuss what he called India's aggressive designs.
Musharraf's gathering, however, excluded the two main fundamentalist Islamic parties, which had organized mass protests against Musharraf in October after he decided to support the U.S.-led battle against suspected terrorists in Afghanistan. Both groups said they were not invited.