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Europe

Tensions Rise Despite Calls for Restraint

Military build-up gathers pace on the Kashmir border despite Pakistani and Indian anti-war rhetoric.

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Crying for peace - a victim of the Kashmir conflict

Clashes continued on the Indian-Pakistani border overnight despite urges by the US for talks.

India moved ballistic missiles and further troops to the border in disputed Kashmir on Wednesday, as tensions continued to rise following a militant attack on the Indian parliament two weeks ago.

India, which wants Pakistan to crack down on Muslim militants supected to be involved in the attack on India's parliament, described the deployment of fighter jets and ballistic missiles along the border as a precaution. Despite fears of an oncoming war, analysts say that military action is not a real option as India would be regarded as an aggressor and could lose international support over the issue.

The US has shown support for India’s demands for Pakistan to crack down on Pakistan-based guerilla groups, but is still desperate to keep the lid on current tensions between the two neighbouring countries.

"Any conflict between the two countries can have no good result for either," US State Department spokesman Philip Reeker said in Washington on Wednesday. "They need to resolve their differences through dialogue".

The US needs the cooperation of both countries in its war against terrorism. US Secretary of State Colin Powell spoke to Pakistan’s President Musharrraf and India’s Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh earlier this week in an effort to ease the tension.

The US is said to believe that the militants involved in the attacks on India’s parliament intended to create a greater divide between the two neighbouring countries.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan urged India and Pakistan to avoid escalating actions that could lead to a further conflict over Kashmir, saying they should instead try to resolve their differences through dialogue.

In letters sent on Tuesday evening to Indian Prime Minister Atal Vajpayee and Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, Mr. Annan said that every effort had to be made to foster a calmer atmosphere so that differences - no matter how great - could be resolved through dialogue and diplomacy.

He also said that the whole international community had a great interest in keeping relations between the two countries stable. But voices in Europe over the conflict have been surprisingly quiet.

Quiet criticism

During his trip to India in October, Germany’s Chancellor Schröder was asked whether Germany could play an intermediary role in the Kashmir conflict. Schröder said that Germany, like all countries of the international community, wished for the governments of India and Pakistan to resume dialogues.

However, he added that as India did not wish for any intermediaries, it was clear that the conflict would have to be solved bilaterally between India and Pakistan.

India harbours great potential for cooperation in business and technology, which could be one of the reasons behind Germany’s current restraint to criticise India’s military build-up on the Kashmir border.

And any restraint to comment on Pakistan’s role in the current conflict could lie in Pakistan’s role in the US-led war against terrorism. In recognition of Pakistan’s changed position on the Taliban regime, the European Commission is preparing to step up the EU’s assistance to Pakistan up to 100 million euro in 2001-2002. A new co-operation agreement was signed during Commission President Prodi’s visit to Pakistan on November 24 this year.

Diplomatic sanctions

India’s cabinet security committee is due to meet late on Thursday to discuss fresh action against Pakistan, especially diplomatic and economic sanctions. These could include cutting off part of Pakistan's water supply which runs through India, scaling down the Pakistani embassy in New Delhi and banning Pakistan International Airlines from Indian airspace.

Despite the current military preparations, both countries insist they do not want a war.

India and Pakistan have gone to war three times since their separation on independence from Britain in 1947. Two of the wars were over Kashmir, the Himalayan region, which is to a majority Muslim, and is divided between them. Both countries claim sovereignty over the whole region.

India accuses Pakistan of sponsoring the separatist campaign in Kashmir which has killed more than 60,000 people in the past twelve years, according to human rights groups. Pakistan denies the accusation, but is said to offer moral support to Kashmiris' aspirations.

The current military build-up is the largest in almost 15 years involving the two countries. However, the war of words is already claiming its victims. Thousands have been forced to leave their homes in Kashmir, as civilians fear and flee a possible full-scale armed conflict.

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