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India and Pakistan: Who will Strike First?

Both countries are at pains to insist that they will not make the first move and “initiate” a war. But a war-like situation is developing along the border, as villagers flee the front line in panic.

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Indian soldiers and Pakistan Rangers (in grey), during the "Beating the Retreat" ceremony, a daily ritual, at the Joint Border Check Post Wagha.

The Indian army has already ordered about 20,000 people to evacuate from more than 40 border villages in Indian administered Kashmir. Tanks and heavy artillery are being rolled into place.

On Friday India defence sources said that two Indian civilians were killed and five wounded when Pakistani forces opened fire along the border in Kashmir. Officials also said that at least 12 Indian soldiers were killed in an accidental explosion while laying land mines near a border post in the desert state of Rajasthan.

Offer of talks

Pakistan President Musharraf has shown willingness to hold talks with the Indians in an attempt to cool down the situation. But India has refused the offer.

A senior Indian foreign ministry official cited by Reuters said Pakistan must first act "resolutely" against Kashmiri militants blamed by India for the recent attack on New Delhi's parliament.

But hopes are still pinned on the regional summit in Kathmandu, Nepal next week, when General Musharraf is willing to hold talks with the Indian Prime Minister. But he said that both sides have to work towards a solution. "You can’t clap with one hand", he told reporters in Islamabad. There has been no response from India so far.

India wants more pressure on Pakistan

Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee wants the world community, whose outlook towards terrorism has changed since the September 11 attacks, to exert pressure on Pakistan to stop harbouring terrorists.

"We would like the world community, which had earlier remained indifferent to this proxy war against India for close to two decades, to bring pressure on Pakistan to take effective steps to stop its policy of cross-border terrorism", he said.

Tit for tat sanctions?

But despite the strained relations between the two countries, India is considering a request from Pakistan for passage over Indian skies to President Pervez Musharraf to attend the SAARC summit next week in Kathmandu.

"We have sent in our request and India has agreed in principle", Pakistan Deputy High Commissioner Jaleel Abbas Jilani said.

Islamabad's request follows India's decision to stop overflight facilities to Pakistani aircraft from January 1, 2002, as part of its diplomatic offensive.

Both countries have imposed sanctions on each other. These include slashing of direct transport links, cutting down their diplomatic missions by half and restricting movement of diplomats to the capital cities.

Terrorist list

New Delhi on Friday said it has drawn up a list of nearly 30 terrorists and criminals, including Jaish-e-Mohammed chief,Maulana Masood Azhar and Dawood Ibrahim, who have taken refuge in Pakistan and are wanted for crimes committed on Indian territory.

The list has been prepared with the intent of asking Islamabad to hand them over to India so that they are brought to book for crimes they had committed here, official sources said.

Security tightened in both countries

Meanwhile as the neighbours’ continue their military build-up at the border, the biggest in 15 years, India has stepped up security in its capital.

In the city of Agra, officials are planning to camouflage the famous Taj Mahal, the 17th century marble monument to love, to protect it from possible bombing raids by Pakistan in the event of war. Agra is home to an Indian air force base. Local tailors are working overtime to stitch more than 400 metres of black and khaki cloth to drape over the monument.

Across Pakistan too security is being tightened and troops have been putting up anti-aircraft guns. Pakistani officials believe that Indian troop deployment is even bigger than that during the conflict in Kargil two years ago between the neighbours.

Group of 8 joins in calls for restraint

Alarmed by the escalating tensions in the region, in view of the fact that both countries are nuclear powers, the world community has been engaged in efforts to defuse the situation.

In addition to US efforts to calm the volatile region, the Group of 8 leading industrial nations has added its voice to international calls for India and Pakistan to resume negotiations to avoid a full fledged war between the two nuclear powers.

G8 Foreign Ministers released a statement in Moscow where they also demanded that Pakistan crack down on terrorist groups operating from within its borders.

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