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World - Asia/Pacific

India encircles rebels on Kashmir mountaintop

mountains
The dispute between India and Pakistan centers on this mountainous region  

Pakistan warns India not to widen conflict

July 2, 1999
Web posted at: 8:45 p.m. EDT (0045 GMT)

From staff and wire reports

NEW DELHI, India -- As Indian forces prepared to recapture a strategic Himalayan mountain in the disputed region of Kashmir, Pakistan warned India on Friday of "serious consequences" if it widened the conflict.

Indian jets searched for Islamic fighters from the sky as Indian soldiers on the ground launched shoulder-fired missiles to destroy rebel fortresses dug into rocky ridges overlooking the region's only highway, Indian commanders said.

The commanders said supply lines from Pakistan to guerrilla positions on the strategic 16,500-foot Tiger Hill had been severed. They said arms and a three-month supply of ammunition were captured.

The military's claims could not be independently verified.

Round-the-clock airstrikes that have taken place for the past week accompanied the fiercest fighting in seven weeks between Indian soldiers and Pakistan-based Islamic fighters who seized positions in Indian-controlled Kashmir in May.

artillery fired
Artillery is fired round-the-clock on the Kargil front between India and Pakistan  

India says the fighters include Pakistani soldiers who crossed the 1972 cease-fire line that divides Kashmir between the two neighbors. Pakistan has said its troops are engaged only in retaliatory shelling.

India and Pakistan both claim all of Kashmir, which has been the focus of two of the three wars between the two countries. The latest hostilities have raised fears of a wider confrontation between the world's two newest nuclear powers.

Pakistan again urged a negotiated end to the fighting.

A statement issued after a meeting of Pakistan's key Defense Committee of the Cabinet said the country was "prepared to deal with any eventuality and to give an effective response to any action of aggression."

"The committee expressed the hope that India would realize the serious consequences of a wider conflict and avoid this perilous course in the interest of peace and stability in the region," the statement said.

But Indian Foreign Ministry spokesman Raminder Singh Jassal told a news briefing in New Delhi that negotiations could be resumed only when "the armed intruders are evicted and the sanctity of the Line of Control is restored by Pakistan."

Pakistani soldiers
India claims there is no evidence that Pakistani soldiers such as these are withdrawing from their positions  

Jassal said, "There is no evidence to show that Pakistan is withdrawing its forces from the remaining pockets of intrusion." He added that Islamabad should heed calls from capitals across the world to defuse the rivals' most serious face-off in nearly 30 years.

The European Union, the United States and members of the Group of 8 -- the world's seven most industrialized nations and Russia -- have in effect blamed Pakistan for the crisis.

Some U.S. officials have hinted the United States may block a $100 million loan to Pakistan. The economic consequences of such a move are so serious that Pakistani officials do not want to discuss it.

"There is no possibility of that," said Pakistani Information Minister Mushahid Hussain.

Sharif boxed in by politics, army

The Kashmir conflict has faced Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif with a difficult choice: Enter a full-scale war with India or risk his own political downfall by infuriating fundamentalist parties and other opponents by turning a blind eye to Islamic rebels in Kashmir.

Sharif is also boxed in by the army, which many Pakistanis believe was the architect of the latest crisis in Kashmir. The army has ruled Pakistan more often than not in the country's 52-year history.

Perhaps Sharif's best option, some analysts say, would be to strike a deal with India in which Islamic guerrillas would withdraw from Indian territory, earning Sharif the promise of a meaningful dialogue with India over the future of Kashmir. But such a prospect has eluded every Pakistani leader since the nation gained independence from Britain in 1947.

Correspondent Kasra Naji, The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.



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RELATED SITES:
India Monitor
     •Kashmir
Contemporary conflicts: Kashmir
Kashmir News Reports
Pakistan Link
Kashmir Information Network
The Government of Pakistan
Indian Ministry of External Affairs
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