- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 19, 2002

NEW DELHI India ordered the expulsion of Pakistan's ambassador yesterday, as shelling across their shared border escalated and renewed fears the nuclear neighbors are on the brink of another war over the Himalayan region of Kashmir.
Thousands on both sides of the heavily armed frontier fled their homes and set up camp in schools and government buildings to escape what the Indian military described as the most intense hostilities this year.
Pakistan's ambassador to New Delhi, Ashraf Jehangir Qazi, was given one week to return to Islamabad. His expulsion was announced after Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee met with top officials to decide on a response to a militant attack on an army base in Kashmir.
The attack Tuesday killed 34 persons, most of them the wives and children of soldiers. India said it was carried out by two militant Muslim groups based in Pakistan.
India's External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh said that because New Delhi no longer had an ambassador in Islamabad, the Pakistani ambassador would have to leave.
"For the sake of parity of representation between the two countries," he told reporters, the ambassador would be required to return to Islamabad.
India withdrew its ambassador from Pakistan in December, after an attack on its parliament in New Delhi. Pakistan's ambassador remained in the Indian capital, even though the Indian government refused to meet with him.
The two countries still have fully functioning embassies, though their staffs have been reduced in recent months.
Pakistan responded indignantly, saying India's decision to expel its envoy would lead only to more tension. The Himalayan region has been at the root of two of the three wars fought by India and Pakistan.
"Efforts should be made to reduce tension, and Pakistan, despite this action of India, which has disappointed us, will continue to strive to resolve all issues with India through peaceful negotiations and through peaceful means," said Aziz Ahmad Khan, a spokesman for Pakistan's Foreign Ministry.
The United States and other allies are worried war could be imminent. U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Christina Rocca visited both countries earlier in the week, urging restraint and the resumption of dialogue.
A million troops, with tanks and heavy guns, are on alert along the frontier following the parliament attack five months ago. Both countries have nuclear arms. They have also halted plane flights and train service.
Analysts in India said the crisis is the worst since an 11-week border conflict in the Kargil sector of Kashmir in 1999. The Indian army said hundreds of Pakistani soldiers had crossed the cease-fire line that divides Kashmir between the two countries and occupied Indian military posts along the Himalayan ridge.
"We're facing probably the most severe crisis since Kargil. The Indian public and the strategic community are agreed that Pakistan has to be made to pay for such roguish behavior," said Amitabh Mattoo, a member of India's National Security Advisory Board.
India accuses Islamabad of sponsoring Pakistan-based Islamic militants. Islamabad denied the charge but said it supports the goals of the "freedom fighters" who have been fighting since 1989 for the independence of India's only Muslim-majority state or its merger with Pakistan. Tens of thousands of people, mostly civilians, have been killed in the insurgency.
Mr. Vajpayee vowed to respond to the latest attack and, in a special parliamentary debate Friday, lawmakers demanded tough military action.
The scaling down of diplomatic ties yesterday was expected to precede other diplomatic initiatives, Mr. Mattoo said.
Fighting on the border, which began two days ago, intensified yesterday, witnesses said.
In Indian villages along the frontier, the carcasses of animals killed in the fighting lay in the summer heat in abandoned villages, their stench mixing with the smell of spent ammunition.
"It's a war," said Bishamber Dass, one of 10,000 people who fled their homes Friday night and was sheltering in a makeshift camp.
Indian military officials said four soldiers had been wounded, but three civilians had been killed and seven wounded in the most intense cross-border firing this year.
Pakistani military said yesterday that two persons were killed and 15 wounded including two children when Indian soldiers fired across the disputed border.


Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.

 

Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide