- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 29, 2001

NEW DELHI, India As India and Pakistan shot at each other and spoke of war, weeping friends and relatives on both sides bid farewell yesterday before the two nations sever their land and air links for the first time in 30 years.

Warning that an Indian troop buildup at the border was pushing the countries into confrontation, Pakistan told the United States it may need to further reinforce its side of the frontier by moving troops now helping the U.S. hunt for Osama bin Laden, Pakistani officials said.

President Bush said yesterday his administration was "working actively to bring some calm in the region, to hopefully convince both sides to stop the escalation of force." He said India should "take note" of steps by Pakistan to crack down on Islamic militants.

The South Asian rivals both of which have nuclear weapons have been threatening a new war since a Dec. 13 attack by gunmen on India's Parliament. New Delhi says Pakistan sponsored the attack and demands it arrest and extradite the leaders of two militant groups India says conducted the operation. Pakistan denies the charge.

The Indian army ordered evacuations of 20,000 people from more than 40 border villages in the Indian-held part of Kashmir, and traded shells overnight with Pakistani border forces, officials said yesterday. Soldiers also laid mines outside the villages.

Retaliatory firing by Pakistani troops killed a 3-year-old in an Indian border village, police said. The firing ended two days of relative calm.

The two nations on Thursday ordered each other's 110-person embassy staffs cut in half and banned overflights as of next Tuesday. On that day, India will also close bus and train links, and private cars will also be barred from crossing the border closing transport links for the first time since the 1971 war.

The halt to transportation links is a haunting reminder of past wars and a psychological blow for millions on both sides connected by blood or friendship.

Men and women wept, desperately embraced relatives and tried to hold hands through the iron window grills of the cars as the Samjhauta Express, the only train between the two nations, pulled out of the Old Delhi station, carrying people home before the deadline.

At the Lahore station in Pakistan, an Indian woman, Amina Begum, stood tightly holding the hand of her brother Tanveer Ahmad, a Pakistani. Both wept.

Separated in their childhood, they had met after 53 years. "I had come here to stay for two months, but now I'm going back just after seven days," Ms. Begum said as she boarded the train. "Now I don't think he will be able to see me even at my death."

A spokesman for Pakistan's military-government said India's troop buildup at the border was making a confrontation inevitable. "The Indian government is putting itself into a corner where it would be difficult for them to now back off," Gen. Rashid Quereshi said in Islamabad.

Pakistan told the United States yesterday through official channels that it may have to move troops from its western Afghan border to the eastern frontier with India, a senior diplomatic official and a senior army official said. Those troops are currently patrolling the Afghan border, hunting for fleeing members of bin Laden's al-Qaida terror group.

Speaking at his ranch in Crawford, Texas, Mr. Bush said Secretary of State Colin Powell had spoken to both sides, urging restraint. He praised Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, saying he had arrested 50 "extreme terrorists."

Mr. Powell called Mr. Musharraf and Indian Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh yesterday and urged both to resolve their differences through dialogue, State Department spokesman Philip Reeker said.

Mr. Reeker also reaffirmed the U.S. view that the leaders should use an upcoming meeting of South Asian leaders in Nepal to discuss their differences.

India has said Pakistan has only taken "cosmetic" steps against two Islamic militant groups New Delhi says conducted the Parliament attack Lashkar-e-Tayyaba and Jaish-e-Mohammed. Pakistan has frozen the groups' assets and arrested some members but demands proof of their involvement. The Parliament attack left nine Indians and the five attackers dead.

Indian Home Minister Lal K. Advani said India was ready for a decisive battle "irrespective of the support we get from other countries in this war against terrorism."

The United States, European nations, China and the United Nations have urged Mr. Musharraf and Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee to meet at a Jan. 4-6 gathering of South Asian leaders in Nepal. India said that will not happen, though both leaders are attending.

India and Pakistan have fought three wars since independence from Britain in 1947. Two of those wars in 1947 and 1965 were fought over the divided Himalayan region of Kashmir. Many in both countries feared the prospect of a fourth.

"I want India to be tough, I want Pakistan to be taught a lesson for promoting terrorism. But war I don't know, I still remember the blackouts of 1971 and the sirens and the jets flying overhead," said Radha Rastogi, a woman in India's northern city of Lucknow.

Though cargo can still be moved by train across the border, the closing of transportation links was likely to hurt the countries' $280 million in official trade annually. Another $1 billion worth goods illegally cross the border every year.

"We are feeling tense now," said Shafiqur Rahman Rao, a Pakistani marble exporter at a trade fair in Calcutta, India. "We don't want war at any cost."

The transport links are among the few concrete results of peace efforts in the countries' long rivalry. Vajpayee launched the New Delhi-Lahore bus service in February 1999, riding into Pakistan himself in what was seen as a path-breaking peace gesture between the neighbors.

The twice-weekly train service started in 1976 after a peace deal ended the 1971 war.

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