- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 15, 2002

RAWALAKOT, Pakistan-controlled Kashmir Pakistani army officers on the front line facing Indian troops vowed yesterday to wrestle the contested province from New Delhi's control.
While shivering in the icy Himalayan territory with bullets and artillery shells soaring overhead, they took comfort from the words of Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, who said in a landmark speech Saturday that "Kashmir is in our blood."
They greeted the words not only with widespread shouts of "free Kashmir" and "it is God's will," but also with celebratory gunfire as civilians emptied round after round into the cold night air.
"Our president is unifying the country," said Lt. Ali Mohammed of the Pakistani army.
"Every day, the Indians fire upon us and we return fire. Unless they stop, we will unleash the fury of righteousness upon them," he said.
Such comments were typical of those stationed here.
Pakistanis unrepentingly proclaim their readiness for war with an Indian force twice their size.
Both armies have assumed forward positions along the border. Indian battle posts can be seen from the minarets of mosques on the Pakistani side of the border known as the Line of Control.
Despite calls from President Bush to both Gen. Musharraf and Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee on Sunday, heavy exchanges of fire across the Line of Control in Kashmir continued through late last night.
Said Zafir Khan, a shopkeeper: "They are attempting to push us out, but we know how to fight. Muslims ruled India for hundreds of years and we will again."
The dozens of AK-47s for sale in Mr. Khan's shop testified to his resolve. Heavy civilian casualties have also hardened the locals.
At least 30,000 people have fled the Rawalakot region since the start of tensions following the attack on the Indian Parliament last month, blamed by India on Pakistan.
"They're using all types of weapons. Small arms. Mortars and artillery. It's very heavy and still going on," deputy police inspector Gen. Faheem Abassi said.
India has accused the Pakistan army of firing across the Line of Control to provide cover for militants crossing into its section of Kashmir in order to join a revolt there against Indian rule.
Pakistan, in turn, has often accused India of starting the shooting.
India and Pakistan have fought two of their three wars over Kashmir, an area of stunning beauty that became one of the world's most dangerous flash points after Pakistan and India held nuclear tests in 1998.
India controls about 45 percent of the Himalayan region and says that state elections held in Jammu and Kashmir, as its region is officially known, legitimize its territorial claims.
Pakistan holds about one-third of the region and wants implementation of a United Nations' 1948 resolution that would give Kashmiri people a vote on their future.
The resolution also called for the withdrawal of Pakistani and Indian forces. The issue is further complicated because China holds the rest of the region.
At least 33,000 people have died in a 12-year revolt against India in Kashmir, blamed by the Indian government on Pakistani support for Kashmiri separatists.Villagers on the Pakistani side place the death toll near to 80,000.
Exacerbating tensions caused by a buildup of more than 1 million troops on both sides of the border, India plans to hold military exercises across the border.
Though the annual war games were planned months ago, they have served only to fuel Pakistani fears.
Said a high-ranking military officer: "They have taken forward positions, they shell us night and day and now they talk of exercises."
"No, they prepare for war and we are ready."

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