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
"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
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
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.