- The Washington Times - Monday, February 10, 2003

Insider notes from United Press International for Feb. 10

The latest Indo-Pakistani crisis, after the expulsion of each other's top diplomats last week, is not just business as usual, but far more serious. Senior aides to Pakistani leader Gen. Pervez Musharraf are close to panic at what they see as an Indian military-diplomatic coup to ensure that Pakistan will face the threat of war on two fronts. Despite assurances from Iran's President Mohammed Khatami on his visit to India last month, they believe that New Delhi and Tehran have negotiated a far-reaching defense pact. The public aspects of the warming military relationship between India and Iran are ominous enough. India will send technicians on semi-permanent deployment to Iran to upgrade and overhaul its aging Soviet-era fleet of MiG-29s, its T-72 tanks and BMP-armored infantry vehicles. The two countries have also agreed to a series of joint military and naval exercises. The real worry for Pakistan is that they believe that in return, India has an agreement to send warplanes, surveillance platforms and troops to Iran in the event of new military standoffs with Pakistan.

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Iran seems blithely unconcerned at the degree to which India is simultaneously strengthening its military links to the United States and to Israel. Indeed, those Indian technicians upgrading Iran's T-72 tanks will have come fresh from their own Israeli-run training courses, since Israel has the contract to retrofit laser-sighting systems to India's own T-72 and T-90main battle tanks. Maybe Iran hopes that the best way into Uncle Sam's good books is to cozy up to Washington's new friends in New Delhi.

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The open rows between the U.S. and its former German and French allies at Munich's Wehrkunde security conference grabbed all the headlines. So the remarks by India's National Security Adviser Brajesh Mishra were barely noticed. But they were an important pointer to the increasingly ugly mood in the subcontinent. Mishra asserted bluntly that Pakistan was sheltering its nuclear weapons in ''tunnels and caves'' in the Chagai hills of Baluchistan, and that this concealment of nuclear weapons was making India nervous by undermining the prospect of stabilization through mutual deterrence. ''Persistent reports of the freelance activities of some Pakistani nuclear scientists only add to our disquiet,'' Mishra added.

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At the same time, India is hinting that it too is prepared to ditch mutual-assured deterrence by developing its own regional version of a shield against incoming ballistic missiles in order to counter "threats from its adversaries, a top official from the Defense Research and Development Office told a seminar at the Bangalore aerospace show last week. "We are now trying to develop ballistic missile defense systems like hypersonic class of missiles and long-range detection and tracking radars,'' said V.K. Saraswat, director of Hyderabad-based Research Center Imarat. "In offensive weapons (missiles), we have almost come to whatever needed by the country. Now we are looking at defensive weapons." At another seminar in Bangalore, dealing with Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, a former chief adviser to the DRDO, K.G. Narayanan, revealed that India was developing a UAV that will "have a place on a ballistic missile launch warning platform."

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After Islamic fundamentalists, Christian fundamentalists and Hindu fundamentalists, now comes another bunch with fervent views on religion and politics. Not to be outdone, Russian Orthodox fundamentalists are alive and well — and campaigning for Ivan the Terrible and Rasputin to be elevated to sainthood. The 16th-century Ivan the Awe-inspiring (as his title Ivan Grozny should be translated) was a crazed and murderous autocrat and Rasputin is known to history as the Mad Monk who helped discredit the Tsarist regime in the years before the 1917 Revolution. Russian Orthodox Patriarch Alexy II is outraged at the fundamentalist campaign to canonize Ivan, who slaughtered many monks who were themselves later named as saints and martyrs. "This is madness. We can't at the same time praise the martyrs and their killer," the Patriarch has declared. "Nor is there any reason to envisage canonizing Grigory Rasputin, whose loose morals threw a shadow over the future martyrs of the august family of (Tsar) Nicholas II." The problem is that the Patriarchate has already compromised with the nationalist-extremists of Orthodox fundamentalism, agreeing two years ago to canonize Tsar Nicholas and his family.

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