- The Washington Times - Monday, December 31, 2001

Pakistan and India are readying their military forces including their ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons for war, The Washington Times has learned.

U.S. intelligence officials say Pakistani military moves include large-scale troop movements, the dispersal of fighter aircraft and preparations for the transportation of nuclear weapons from storage sites.

India also is moving thousands of its troops near the border with Pakistan and has dispersed some aircraft to safer sites away from border airfields, say officials familiar with intelligence reports of the war moves.

Pakistan is moving the equivalent of two armored brigades several thousand troops and hundreds of tanks and armored vehicles near the northern part of its border with India.

Indian and Pakistani troops exchanged heavy mortar fire over their border in southern Kashmir today, Agence France-Presse reported. Five Indian soldiers were seriously injured in the heaviest shelling in four months, a senior Indian army official said.

More than 1,000 villagers were evacuated from their homes overnight for the operation, according to the report.

Officials say the most alarming signs are preparations in both states for the use of nuclear-tipped missiles.

Intelligence agencies have learned of indications that India is getting its short-range Prithvi ballistic missiles ready for use. The missiles are within range of the Pakistani capital, Islamabad.

Meanwhile, Pakistan is mobilizing its Chinese-made mobile M-11 missiles, also known as the Shaheen, which have been readied for movement from a base near Sargodha, Pakistan.

Intelligence reports indicate that India will have all its forces ready to launch an attack as early as this week, with Thursday or Friday as possible dates.

Pakistan could launch its forces before those dates in a pre-emptive strike.

Disclosure of the war preparations comes as President Bush on Saturday telephoned leaders of both nations, urging them to calm tensions, a sign of administration concern over the military moves in the region.

The administration also fears that a conflict between India and Pakistan would undermine U.S. efforts to find terrorists in Afghanistan.

U.S. military forces are heavily reliant on Pakistani government permission to conduct overflights for bombing and other aircraft operations into Afghanistan, primarily from aircraft carriers located in the Arabian Sea.

With tensions growing between the states, U.S. intelligence officials are divided over the ultimate meaning of the indicators of an impending conflict.

The Pentagon's Joint Staff intelligence division, known as J-2, late last week had assessed the danger of conflict at "critical" levels.

Other joint intelligence centers outside the Pentagon, including those supporting the U.S. military forces responsible for the Asia-Pacific region and for Southwest Asia, assess the danger of an India-Pakistan war as less than critical but still "serious."

Intelligence officials are especially worried about Pakistan's nuclear arsenal because control over the weapons is decentralized. Even before the latest moves, regional commanders could order the use of the weapons, which are based on missiles or fighter-bombers.

The Prithvi has a range of about 155 miles, and the Indians are estimated to have some 75 Prithvis in their arsenal.

They also are working on longer-range Agni missiles.

U.S. intelligence officials believe India has about 60 nuclear weapons that can be delivered by missiles or aircraft.

Its nuclear-capable aircraft include Russian-made bombers, including 10 Tu-142 Bears and four Tu-22M Backfires, as well as several hundred MiG-27, MiG-29 and Su-30 fighter-bombers.

Pakistan's missile force consists of some 50 M-11s, which have a range of about 186 miles, enough to hit the Indian capital of New Delhi. Its medium-range Ghauri missiles have a range of about 800 miles, enough to hit most parts of India.

U.S. intelligence agencies have obtained reconnaissance photographs from one Pakistani missile base that show storage-shed doors open in preparation for the movement of missiles. One of the photographs shows a line of 47 rail cars on a track near the base in preparation for the movement of missiles and their warheads.

The private Natural Resources Defense Council estimates that Islamabad has between 24 and 48 nuclear weapons.

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