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Indo-Pak war to dilute US anti-terror effort, Pakistani experts say

  MUZAFFARABAD, December 29 (Internews): Pakistani and Indian troops are  eyeing one another across a 200-yard ravine in Shaheen area in the steep
 Kashmiri hills, a potential flash point for renewed conflict.
 "Even a small little action can degenerate into a chain reaction nobody
 can control," says Brig Yaqub Khan, who commands about 4,000 Pakistani
 soldiers on high alert along this section of the Line of Control
 dividing Kashmir.
 "If the two nuclear states go to war, it can become a big catastrophe
 for the entire world," he adds in his dug-in military post about 35 km
 east of Muzaffarabad, the capital of Pakistan-administered Azad Kashmir.
 Military sources say that the latest Indo-Pak crisis threatens to draw
 Pakistan's resources away from the border with Afghanistan and the
 US-backed war against Osama bin Laden.
 Pakistan has been a major staging area for US military and intelligence
 operations in the Afghan conflict. Since Sept 11, the US military has
 taken control of about a third of Pakistan's air space to facilitate
 operations over Afghanistan and the search for bin Laden and his al
 Qaeda fighters in the western border hills of Pakistan.
 About 60,000 Pakistani soldiers have been deployed along that border to
 aid the search. And as many as 35,000 troops have been assigned to
 protect US troops and equipment using bases on western Pakistani soil,
 at a cost of more than $400 million from a Pakistani military budget of
 $2.7 billion.
 That heavy US involvement in western Pakistan has made the Bush
 administration a major if reluctant player in the tensions here in the
 east as well.
 So far, the US role has been to urge restraint by India, which seeks to
 retaliate for the attack on its parliament by what it says were members
 of Pakistani-based militant groups fighting in Kashmir, and to demand
 that Pakistan crack down on them.
 The tensions are mounting daily and India and Pakistan have moved troops
 and equipment forward in case a full-fledged conflict erupts.
 Both sides declare they want to avoid war, but have turned up the
 rhetoric and mobilised in ways that raise the chances for miscalculation
 and war by default. A half-dozen people have been killed in shelling
 along the Line of Control in recent days.
 Defence sources say that if the dangers evoked by Khan at his frontline
 position are realised and the 600,000-strong Pakistani military is
 called on to fight India, the US role could turn into something far more
 complicated than hunting for bin Laden, and that search could be
 compromised.
 Pakistani officials say they have no doubt the army will have to reduce
 its cooperation with the US along the Afghan border if the standoff
 along the Line of Control flares into fighting.
 In a 1999 flare-up with India in Kashmir's Kargil area, they note, the
 Pakistani military moved large units from Peshawar and Quetta, on the
 western border, to reinforce positions here along the eastern border.
 -Internews

 

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