- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 23, 2002

KUPWARA, India India's prime minister told soldiers on the tense Kashmir frontier yesterday to prepare for a "decisive battle" against Pakistan-supported Islamic insurgents, sending a stern warning to Pakistan as Indian warships moved closer to its neighbor's waters.

Pakistan's top military leaders and Cabinet, after a joint meeting yesterday, called for negotiations to ease tensions between the nuclear-armed rivals, but they also said their nation was ready "to meet any contingency resolutely and with full force."

Cross-border shelling last week killed dozens and reignited fears of a war over Kashmir. The rivals have fought two wars over this divided Himalayan region.

Indian naval officials said yesterday they had moved five warships from the Bay of Bengal in the east to the western coast in an effort to reinforce maritime defense.

"The warships have been moved in view of the prevailing situation and in keeping with India's maritime interests," said Cmdr. Rahul Gupta, an Indian navy spokesman. The ships include a guided-missile destroyer, a multipurpose frigate and three corvettes.

The warships set sail two days ago and are near Bombay, and about 500 nautical miles from the Pakistani port of Karachi, officials said. India carried out similar shifting of warships during a 1999 conflict and in the 1971 India-Pakistan war.

Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee addressed more than 600 soldiers yesterday at an army base near the cease-fire line that divides Kashmir between India and Pakistan.

Mr. Vajpayee told the soldiers "to be ready for sacrifice. Your goal should be victory. It's time to fight a decisive battle."

He said that India has been forced to fight a proxy war with Pakistan. New Delhi accuses the rival of training and arming the Islamic militants who have waged a battle for Kashmir's independence or merger with Pakistan for 12 years. India has a majority Hindu population.

Islamabad denies it backs the militants materially, saying it provides them only moral support.

Mr. Vajpayee said his morale booster for the troops should indicate to Pakistan that India is prepared for war.

"Whether our neighbor gets that signal or not, whether the world keeps record of that or not, we will write a new chapter of victory," he said. "Our neighbor has found a new way of fighting, through a proxy war."

Mr. Vajpayee said the attack last week by suspected Islamic militants on an army camp on the outskirts of Jammu, the winter capital of India's Jammu and Kashmir state, posed a new challenge. The assault killed 34 persons mostly wives and children of soldiers.

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