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India, Pakistan resume Kashmir border shelling

Tuesday, January 28, 2003

NEW DELHI, India -- India and Pakistan resumed shelling along the Kashmir border Monday, and New Delhi warned Pakistan it would be "erased from the world map" if Islamabad used nuclear weapons against India.

Pakistan responded by calling the comments by Defense Minister George Fernandes "nothing but Indian harping."

Fernandes' remarks were reported just hours after Secretary of State Colin Powell urged the two sides to "take risks for peace."

Indian and Pakistani troops exchanged mortar fire in Punch, a border district 145 miles northwest of Jammu, the winter capital of India's troubled Jammu-Kashmir state.

An Indian army spokesman said shelling from the Pakistani side began Monday and that Indian soldiers destroyed Pakistan's Chuha post in retaliation. There were no reports of any casualties, the Indian spokesman said.

A spokesman for Pakistan's army said five Indian army soldiers were killed when Pakistani troops returned unprovoked Indian artillery shelling against civilians.

Pakistan, like the United States, has never promised not to strike first. India says it only would use nuclear weapons defensively.

"The person who heads Pakistan today, who is also the whole and sole in-charge of that country, has been talking about using dangerous weapons including the nukes," Fernandes told BBC World's Hindi radio service.

"Well, I would reply by saying that if Pakistan has decided that it wants to get itself destroyed and erased from the world map, then it may take this step of madness," he said.

The nuclear-armed South Asian rivals, which narrowly averted war last year, have increased their hostile rhetoric and missile tests in recent weeks. Both countries expelled political envoys last week and have been making tit-for-tat claims of superior military preparedness, even as they scale back troops along their frontier. India and Pakistan, which have fought three wars since independence from Britain in 1947, avoided yet another last June after global intervention.

Powell, speaking on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, said shortly before the Fernandes comments were reported that both sides should work toward peace.

"The United States has extended a helping hand to both India and Pakistan; we stand ready to do so again," Powell said. "But it is crucial that they both take risks for peace on the subcontinent and work to normalize their relations."

Pakistani military spokesman Gen. Rashid Quereshi told The Associated Press in Karachi on Monday that Musharraf had never talked about using nuclear weapons against India.

"This is again typical Indian irresponsibility and scheming behavior to blame Pakistan," he said. "India's problem is this: It never accepts the truth and instead it ignores it, as in the case of the Kashmir freedom movement."

Quereshi said the 12-year Islamic militant insurgency in disputed Kashmir was an "indigenous movement."

India accuses Pakistan of financing and training the militants fighting for the independence of Indian Kashmir, the Himalayan province claimed by both rivals. Islamabad says it only offers diplomatic and moral support to the "freedom fighters." Musharraf has pledged to halt any cross-border infiltration of separatists from Pakistan-controlled Kashmir.

India claims the infiltration continues. More than 60,000 people have been killed during the insurgency.

Pakistani Foreign Ministry spokesman Aziz Ahmad Khan on Monday said Pakistan has succeeded in preventing all infiltration by militants from its side of border for the last 14 months.

Three suspected militants were killed in a gunbattle with security forces in Wagora village, about 35 miles north of Srinagar, the state's summer capital. Elsewhere, police said unidentified men kidnapped two villagers and later killed them.


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