Pakistan 'Ready to Strike Back' KASHMIR: President Musharraf Confident but Others Less Optimistic about Relations with India

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Byline: MARC JONES

PAKISTAN'S President Gen Pervez Musharraf assured his top politicians yesterday that the country's armed forces were capable of countering any Indian aggression.

As he spoke, residents streamed out of some villages along the border with Indian where tension was mounting.

Gen Musharraf told the leaders of major parties that Pakistan wanted peace and de-escalation but its forces would strike back hard if attacked.

The state-run news agency said the politicians urged him to work for greater national unity in the face of the Indian threat.

He was quoted as saying, "We only hope that sanity prevails."

Other Pakistani leaders seemed less than optimistic about deteriorating relations between the two south Asian nuclear rivals which have been sniping at each other and fortifying their borders for nearly two weeks.

Foreign Minister Abdul Sattar said, "Our anxieties are mounting not only by the day but by hours as we receive information about the movement of Indian forces on the border.

Gen Rashid Quereshi, spokesman for Pakistan's military-led government, said the meeting with Gen Musharraf was part of consultations with various sections of society, including Islamic clerics, to discuss what he called India's aggressiveness.

Excluded were the two main fundamentalist Islamic parties, Jamaate-Islami and Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam, which organised protests against Gen Musharraf in October after he decided to support the US-led coalition in Afghanistan. Also missing were the Pakistan Peoples' Party and a faction of the Pakistan Muslim League, the two former ruling parties.

Raja Zafarul Haq, of the Muslim League, said the government would invite the two for a similar meeting.

Hostilities have increased since a December 13 suicide attack on India's Parliament.

India claims the Pakistani spy agency and two Pakistan-based Islamic militant groups, Lashkar-eTayyaba and Jaish-e-Mohammed, orchestrated the attack. …