November 22, 2002

Western Nations Advise Citizens to Leave India

Western governments on Friday urged tens of thousands of their nationals to leave India, fearing war between India and Pakistan.

The United States, leading feverish international efforts to bring the nuclear-armed enemies back from the brink, was among those advising foreign residents in the region to prepare for the worst.

The U.S. State Department advised Americans to leave. "Tensions have risen to serious levels and the risk of intensified military hostilities between India and Pakistan cannot be ruled out," it said in a travel warning.

There are an estimated 60,000 Americans in India and some 20,000 Britons. British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said the Britons should consider leaving and advised against traveling to India.

Straw, who visited the region this week, said he continued to believe the situation was dangerous but war was not inevitable.

The United States, Australia and Canada prepared to pull out non-essential diplomats. Germany and Canada advised their nationals to leave India if not on urgent business.

The United States, Britain and other Western nations have already reduced diplomatic staffing in Pakistan and urged expatriates to leave the country, where there has been a rash of attacks and threats against Westerners by Islamic militants.

But while Western governments sounded alarm bells, there was little sense of panic in India and Pakistan, and foreign nationals showed no signs of fleeing. International airlines reported no surge in demand for flights out of India.

Fernandes Allays Fears

In Singapore, visiting Indian Defense Minister George Fernandes tried to allay fears, saying the border was stable.

"The troops have been on both sides in an eyeball-to-eyeball situation for the last six months, so I don't think one needs worry just now as to what is likely to happen," he said.

In New Delhi, a Japanese envoy called for peace, describing himself as a representative of "the only country to have suffered the atomic bomb".

Senior Vice-Foreign Minister Seiken Sugiura said after meeting Indian leaders including Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh that he saw a "strong possibility" of war unless Islamabad acted on New Delhi's demands to curb militants entering India.

Sugiura said in Islamabad on Thursday Pakistan had assured him it would step up efforts to rein in militants infiltrating into the Indian-ruled portion of the disputed territory of Kashmir.

India and Pakistan have mobilized around a million men on their border in a confrontation triggered by a December attack on the Indian parliament that New Delhi blamed on Pakistani-based militants fighting its rule in Indian Kashmir.

U.S. President George W. Bush is sending Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage to South Asia next week to try to cool passions.

Bush told Islamabad on Thursday it must keep its promise to stamp out cross-border incursions.

That call was echoed on Friday by foreign ministers from the Group of Eight nations meeting in Ottawa, who urged Islamabad to stop infiltrations and halt "terrorist groups" operating from territory under its control.

Rare Joint Statement

In a rare joint statement, the ministers said they were "gravely concerned about the risks inherent in the current crisis between India and Pakistan".

The G8 comprises the Group of Seven leading industrialized nations -- Canada, Britain, the United States, Japan, Italy, France and Germany -- plus Russia.

Russia is hoping to persuade Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf to hold face-to-face talks with Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee during a regional security meeting next week in ex-Soviet Kazakhstan. India has effectively ruled out such a meeting.

Russian President Vladimir Putin is planning separate meetings with the Indian and Pakistani leaders.

Low-level hostilities already erupt daily on the front line. Pakistan's state run news agency said a Pakistani civilian was killed on Friday as troops traded fire across the frontier. Two people were injured by Indian firing on villages in Pakistan's Punjab province, APP said.

An Indian defense official said an Indian paramilitary soldier was killed and five soldiers were wounded in exchanges of mortar and machinegun fire.

Militants battling Indian rule in Kashmir threw a grenade at a group of police in Kashmir, wounding five. Indian analysts say a major militant attack could provoke retaliation from New Delhi and full-scale war.

Pakistan has said it is considering moving troops from its Afghan border in the west to face the Indian army in the east -- a step that could hinder the U.S.-led offensive against remnants of al Qaeda and Taliban forces.

At allied headquarters at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan, British defense staff chief Admiral Michael Boyce said the tension between India and Pakistan was already "having an effect" on the drive against the al Qaeda militant network.

(China Daily June 1, 2002)

In This Series
India, Pakistan Fire Artillery in Kashmir

Bush Sends Rumsfeld to Calm India, Pakistan

Kashmir Shelling Kills 23 Civilians

Restraint Urged in Dispute Between India and Pakistan



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