Pakistan is constructing missile-launch sites near its border with India and recently moved a number of missiles toward the area, according to U.S. intelligence officials.
Ninety percent of India’s military forces are now deployed outside of peace-time garrisons in preparation for conflict, officials told The Washington Times on the condition of anonymity.
The military activities are one reason U.S. intelligence officials believe tensions between the two nuclear-armed South Asian nations have reached dangerous levels.
As a sign of the concern, President Bush yesterday asked leaders of India and Pakistan to try to ease tensions.
“Both leaders agreed to continue to work to reduce tensions,” Sean McCormack, spokesman for the White House National Security Council, said of Mr. Bush’s telephone calls to Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf and Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee.
Mr. Bush thanked Mr. Musharraf for his speech Saturday, in which he pledged to ensure his country would not be used as a base for terrorism and to crack down on Muslim extremists.
In his conversation with Mr. Vajpayee, Mr. Bush discussed Mr. Musharraf’s speech, but Mr. McCormack declined to give any further information.
Speaking a few hours before details of the telephone calls were made public, Indian External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh said Pakistan had to clamp down on Islamic militants before New Delhi would end its massive military buildup.
“Let there be no further infiltration or cross-border terrorism,” Mr. Singh told a news conference. “We have to go not by the stated intent, but by the action on the ground.”
The current crisis began after the Dec. 13 terrorist attack on India’s Parliament that killed 14 persons, including the suicide attackers. India’s government said it had intelligence information indicating that Pakistan-based terrorists were behind the attack.
Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, said the current standoff is worrisome. “President Musharraf’s speech improved the situation, but it’s still an incredibly dangerous situation,” Mr. McCain said on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”
“Now he is going to have to back it up by cracking down on these terrorist organizations,” he said.
Close to 1 million men are massed on either side of the border, and tensions remain high over the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir.
The missile construction in Pakistan is believed to be for short-range M-11s, known in the military as Hatf missiles, which U.S. intelligence agencies believe are in the process of being taken out of storage and deployed.
The launch-site construction was described as concrete areas where mobile missile launchers will be stationed, the officials said.
U.S. intelligence agencies have learned that five new missile-launch sites are being built in eastern Pakistan and have identified the exact location of three of the new sites.
Additionally, a convoy of some 95 trucks was spotted at a missile-storage facility at Sargodha, Pakistan, about 100 miles south of the capital of Islamabad. The trucks are believed to be for transporting missiles to areas in the northern part of the country, U.S. officials said.
Other intelligence reports indicate that Pakistan is preparing to move additional M-11 missiles from southern Pakistan to areas in the country’s northeastern area.
A U.S. intelligence report made public last week said that India has nuclear-tipped missiles that are intended to deter Pakistan’s use of nuclear missiles.
India currently has deployed Prithvi short-range ballistic missiles with ranges of about 93 miles. U.S. intelligence detected preparations by Indian forces for the use of the missiles in late December, U.S. officials said.
Pakistan’s missile force is made up of several types of systems that are “capable of striking a large number of targets throughout most of India,” the intelligence report said.
In addition to M-11s, Pakistan also has a medium-range missile known as the Ghauri that the intelligence report identified as having been “acquired from North Korea.”
Pakistan also has Shaheen I short-range missiles and is developing a Shaheen II with a longer range, the report said.
Secretary of State Colin Powell leaves tomorrow for visits to both India and Pakistan in an effort to defuse the tensions.
The tensions peaked during the first two days of this month based on intelligence reports that Indian forces were set to launch an attack on Pakistan by either Jan. 4 or Jan. 5. Since that time, the danger of a war breaking out, while still serious, has stabilized somewhat, according to administration sources.
The administration believes a war is not imminent because of Mr. Powell’s visit to the region and this week’s visit to the United States by Indian Defense Minister George Fernandes.
Pakistan’s president, Gen. Musharraf, said Saturday that the Islamabad government is cracking down on five Muslim extremist groups. The measure was aimed at lowering tensions with India.
State Department spokesman Richard Boucher told reporters last week the U.S. government is trying to calm the tensions.
“We believe that India and Pakistan must resolve their differences through political and diplomatic means,” Mr. Boucher said. “War or military action is not the way to resolve this crisis.”
He said the standoff does not appear to be growing worse.
“We have made clear all along it’s a very dangerous situation,” he said. “So I don’t believe there’s been any change in our view that the situation is dangerous, that we have military forces in close proximity in potential confrontation.”
India’s military chief, Gen. Sunderajan Padmanabhan, said on Friday that the country’s forces are “fully ready” for conflict.
“Should any nuclear weapons be used against Indian forces the perpetrator of that particular outrage shall be punished, and so severely that their continuation thereafter in any form of fray will be doubtful,” Gen. Padmanabhan said, adding that India would not be the first to use nuclear arms.
This article is based in part on wire-service reports.