When India then Pakistan successfully tested nuclear devices in
spring 1998, a shudder went through the international community. The
two nations, created in a bloody religious partition in 1947, were
in a seemingly perpetual, bitter sibling rivalry punctuated by three
wars - two of them across the cannon-studded Kashmir border.
In time, concern over South Asia's nuclear capability lessened.
Experts divined that New Delhi and Islamabad were quite aware of the
devastation they could wreak on each other in a matter of minutes,
and that they had no desire to do so.
But concerns reignited as the Dec. 13 suicide attack on the
Indian Parliament - allegedly by terrorists trained and supported in
Pakistan - has tensions at a new high. In recent days, India has
been massing troops and arms along their 1,100-mile border in the
largest such buildup in more than a decade, has cut bus and train
service to Pakistan, and recalled its diplomatic envoy there. Late
Cabinet was meeting to consider trade restrictions and flight
bans on Pakistan. And voices in Delhi are discussing "hot pursuit" -
attacks on camps across the border that train militants.
Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and Pakistani
President Pervez Musharraf are scheduled to attend a meeting of
regional leaders in Nepal next week, but Indian foreign ministry
officials told the Associated Press they would not hold separate
While both leaders say they do not want war, both sides seem to
be taking the recent diplomatic and military moves as more than
symbolic gestures. How much more is the question.
The crisis is escalating just as the US is trying to cultivate
new partnerships with both Delhi and Islamabad, and it threatens to
diffract, if not divert, the US war on terror in Afghanistan. US
policymakers worry, for example, that the Pakistan Army - with
60,000 troops deployed on the Afghan border near Tora Bora on the
lookout for Al Qaeda fighters and Osama bin Laden - could redeploy
those troops elsewhere in response to India's moves.
The US has not formally accepted Delhi's claim that the suicide
attack on its legislative assembly was carried out by either Lashkar-
i-Tayyaba or Jaish-e-Mohammad. But on Wednesday, US Secretary of
State Colin Powell announced he had placed both of the Islamist
groups on a list of terrorist organizations. In an effort to ease
tensions, Mr. Powell has spoken twice with the Pakistani leader and
India's foreign minister.
"We have to take this [buildup] pretty seriously, and it is
critical that the tensions lessen," says one senior US State
Department official, who declined to be identified. "It would be
nice to say this is just all maneuvering, just a couple of
squabbling kids looking over their shoulders to see how the US
reacts at this sensitive time. But matters are taking a more
sobering turn. We are worried about people misreading radar screens,
about unintended consequences."
Pakistani officials say the Indian government is using the
assault on its Parliament - in which 14 people died, including the
five attackers - to tarnish the image of Pakistan and depict it as a
"rogue state." They claim India is trying to thwart Pakistan's
emergence as a credible state, just as that country is developing
closer ties with the US by assisting with the coalition against the
Afghan Taliban and Al Qaeda. They say India is using the Dec. 13
tragedy to blur any distinctions between "terrorists" who wantonly
target civilians and "freedom fighters" supporting the anti-Indian
side in the 50-year-plus Kashmir dispute.
"The Indians would like to use this period of global
antiterrorism to confuse the world about the struggle in Kashmir,
and to lump all resistance under the label of terrorism," says Anwar
Sayed, professor emeritus of political science at the University of