India-Pakistan: May 23, 2002

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: India and Pakistan have massed about one million troops backed by heavy artillery along their 1,800-mile border since a December attack on the Indian Parliament in New Delhi, which India blamed on Pakistan-based Islamic militant groups. Heavy exchanges of fire between the two armies have been going on since 17 May, killing dozens of people and wounding scores.

Pakistani security officials told the press on 23 May that over 16,000 light and medium artillery shells had been fired by the Indian forces in the past five days, resulting in 20 killed and 129 wounded. The fires had been concentrated in a two-kilometer strip all along the Line of Control (LoC). Officially, Pakistani military casualties currently stood at five dead and 30 wounded. 

An attack by Islamic militants in the disputed region of Kashmir set in motion a series of events on both sides of the border, obvious preparations for war. India withdrew its ambassador from Pakistan and suspended rail and air links. On 18 May, India expelled Ashraf Jehangir Qazi, Pakistan's ambassador. On the 23rd, India threatened to close Pakistan's already thinly staffed diplomatic mission if Islamabad failed to address its concerns over Islamic militants.

On 19 May, India placed paramilitary troops guarding the border with Pakistan (usually under the control of the Interior Ministry) under the direct operational command of the army and put the coast guard under command of the navy. Both are moves that usually precede military action.

The Indian Navy admitted on 22 May that they were moving a Russian-built destroyer, an indigenous frigate and three corvettes into the Arabian Sea from the Bay of Bengal. The Indian Navy has brought the country's merchant navy under its flag, but kept its only aircraft carrier on a state of alert in the Bay of Bengal.

The Indian Air Force also went on alert on the 22nd, as India's mobilization gained momentum. They cleared about 80 grounded MiG-21s for operational duty due to the increased tensions, while redeploying their Mirage-2000 and Jaguars from their home bases to forward locations. 

The Press Trust of India said the IAF was also moving its "strategic assets" (including ground-to-air-missiles) to positions protecting vital installations, but there was no independent confirmation of this news.

British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw told the press that there was a real risk of nuclear war, but acknowledged there were limits to what to what could be done to settle a conflict simmering for over 50 years. The British Government started the evacuation of diplomats and their families from Pakistan, because of the unacceptable threat to their lives and security. Britain would close its diplomatic mission in Lahore, withdraw the families of all British diplomats from Pakistan and reduce the High Commission to a skeleton staff.

The Pakistanis have not been idle, although Islamabad seems to be unable to coordinate a strong conventional response to India's moves. The state-run APP news agency reported that all civil defense volunteers in the Pakistani capital Islamabad and surrounding areas had been called up. Fire-fighting, first aid demonstrations and rescue exercises would be arranged, while all departments and ministries were directed to immediately update their contingency plans and no official of ICT (Islamabad Capital Territory) Administration would be allowed to leave their post without prior permission.

Pakistan has also decided that (if need be it will recall its peace-keeping forces in Sierra Leone, thin out units on Pakistan's western borders and launch a diplomatic offensive. The only other option would be to resort to Weapons of Mass Destruction, 
an unlikely strategy even for the desperate. According to the UK Times, 
Pakistan has about 25 nuclear warheads and India is believed to have about 60.

Indian prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, after meeting his security advisers in Kashmir's main city of Srinagar on the 22nd, told Indian troops to "be prepared for sacrifices. But our aim should be victory. Because it's now time for a decisive fight'' .

The next day, Vajpayee clarified his position by scolding the press: "I said something else as well, which you didn't repeat. I said... the sky is clear. But sometimes lightning can strike even when the sky is clear".

This gives Islamabad an "out" to concede to India's demands, which was taken on the night of the 22nd. Pakistan made it's first public pledge to not allow Kashmir to be used for terrorist activity - a key Indian demand to end the standoff. India quickly demanded proof of such assurances.

Mother Nature may have her own say, with monsoon rains due at the beginning of June cooling things off. The southwest monsoon typically enters the mainland over Kerala in the first week of June, moving northward to cover the whole of India by mid-July. It starts withdrawing in mid-September. In 2001, the monsoon set in over Kerala by the third week of May (a week ahead of schedule) but an Indian state-run scientific agency forecast earlier this month that the 2002 monsoon was expected to be normal. - Adam Geibel

Rebel violence continued in Kashmir, but there were no deaths. At least 20 were injured in various rebel attacks. 

 

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