- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 8, 2002

NEW DELHI India and Pakistan, trapped by their own rhetoric, are continuing a 4-month-old military buildup along their border that analysts agree is futile and placing severe financial strains on both countries.

India is spending hundreds of millions of dollars each month to maintain its troops and to compensate farmers whose fields are being trampled, while Pakistan is diverting money from urgent needs such as health care and education to maintain its forces on the border.

Yet military analysts see no prospect of either country carrying out an attack on the other, at least for as long as the United States and its allies are working with Pakistan to battle the terrorist threat from al Qaeda and Taliban fighters.

India initiated Operation Parakram, or Operation Courage, its largest mobilization since it went to war with Pakistan 30 years ago, as a result of a Dec. 13 terrorist attack on its Parliament. It accused Pakistani military intelligence of masterminding the attack, which claimed the lives of 14 persons, including the five attackers.

Pakistan quickly responded as both countries rushed troops, armor and nuclear-capable guided missiles toward the border. About 1.2 million men are still in place along the two sides of the line.

Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee recently restated his determination not to withdraw until Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf puts an end to cross-border terrorism and turns over to India 20 suspected terrorists whose names it has provided.

But Gen. Musharraf, concerned about opposition to his crackdown on Islamic hard-liners, is in no position to reverse a public pledge never to hand over the suspects.

"Musharraf has to use his all might to stabilize his position in Pakistan now," said Lt. Gen. V.R. Raghavan, a retired Indian army officer. "In this situation, the Indian deployment is meaningless."

Some Indian politicians also have begun to question the mobilization.

"I suggest either we move or else we call it a day," said Farooq Abdullah, chief minister in the border province of Jammu and Kashmir. "Either we really use our force and do not just put them [there] to rot, or we demobilize and let us save the hinterland."

Farmers in Jammu and Kashmir, Punjab, Rajasthan and Gujarat provinces are demanding compensation from the federal government for the extensive mine fields laid by the troops along the 1,800-mile border during the military buildup. The mines already have taken many lives on the Indian side.

While the Indian government is silent on how much the deployment is costing, estimates are as high as $600 million a month.

U.S. Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and British Prime Minister Tony Blair have visited the region in fruitless attempts to get the two nations to stand down.

The costs of the deployment also are placing a heavy burden on Pakistan, one of the world's poorest countries.


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