- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 12, 2002

NEW DELHI India raised the pressure on Pakistan yesterday when its army chief said he was ready to fight a nuclear war if necessary.

In the most bellicose language from New Delhi in the four-week crisis, Gen. Sunderajan Padmanabhan said "a warlike situation" was developing.

"When two countries mobilize their forces and place them on the border, it is not normal," he said on the eve of a televised address by Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf.

"The situation can comfortably be described as serious," he added. "I have mobilized to be ready for war."

India has been massing troops along the frontier with Pakistan. New Delhi blames the neighboring country for last month's suicide attack on its Parliament.

The U.S. government yesterday again tried to divert the South Asian rivals from war as Secretary of State Colin L. Powell urged Gen. Musharraf in a phone call to take stronger measures against terrorism. Mr. Powell travels to both capitals next week in a bid to resolve the stand-off.

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said President Bush agreed Pakistan must do more, but added, "The president believes that President Musharraf has made important progress in cracking down."

Gen. Padmanabhan's tough talking was seen as a tactic calculated to press Gen. Musharraf into declaring a decisive crackdown on Pakistan-based terrorists fighting to end Indian rule in Kashmir.

Gen. Padmanabhan cautioned Pakistan against contemplating a nuclear strike on India, which enjoys conventional military superiority over Islamabad.

"If anyone is mad enough to use nuclear weapons against India, the perpetrator shall be punished so severely that his continuation in any form would be doubtful," he said. "We are ready for a second strike. Let me reassure you that India has sufficient nuclear weapons."

After their tit-for-tat nuclear tests in 1998, Pakistan retained its first-use option of weapons of mass destruction. India settled for a second, retaliatory nuclear strike option. Both sides have nuclear-capable missiles that can strike deep into the other's territory.

Foreign diplomats said Gen. Padmanabhan's statements were a "calculated and calibrated" move in a dangerous poker game. "India has been sabre-rattling a fortnight after its military deployment was completed by threatening a war, but having no intentions of waging one," a European diplomat said.

It merely wants to back up its diplomatic moves with military pressure, he added, admitting that this time New Delhi would not back down without extracting "suitable and firm promises" from Pakistan.

Gen. Padmanabhan admitted that U.S. military presence inside Pakistan would have a certain "inhibiting effect" on the two armies, but added that when "two wild bulls fight in the jungle, they carry on regardless [of their surroundings]."

India has mobilized its three armored divisions and more than 500,000 troops along its nearly 2,000-mile-long frontier with Pakistan, placing its navy and air force on "high alert" and deploying its nuclear-capable missiles.

Pakistan has reacted similarly, concentrating its forces along the dividing line in the Muslim-majority state of Kashmir.

New Delhi blames Pakistani military intelligence for directly backing Kashmir's 13-year Muslim insurgency, in which more than 35,000 people have died. Islamabad denies the accusation, saying it provides Kashmiri militants only with moral and political support.

The assault on the Indian Parliament, in which 14 persons died, including the five armed attackers, led to India withdrawing its ambassador from Islamabad, and the two sides imposing diplomatic sanctions against one another and closing rail, road and air links between them.

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