Indian Army on Alert Along Kashmir Borders with Rival Pakistan

Published September 23rd, 2001 - 02:00 GMT

The Indian army along Kashmir's borders with Pakistan has been put on alert amid reports of an imminent US strike against Afghanistan, the military's deputy chief said on Sunday. 

Indian army's deputy chief, Lieutenant General Vijay Oberoi, said precautions had been taken despite calculations that any conflict in Afghanistan would not spill over into India. 

"Whenever a situation develops in which we feel a security concern, we take precautionary measures along the border. All such measures have been taken," Gen. Oberoi said in Bombay without elaborating. 

Indian Prime Minister Vajpayee spoke last week with US President George W. Bush and pledged New Delhi's "fullest cooperation" in the war on terrorism. 

Gen. Oberoi added that Washington was yet to seek specific help from the Indian army, the world's fourth largest. 

"The framework has not been spelled out so far," the deputy army chief said. 

Saudi Arabia's Foreign Minister Prince Saud Al-Faisal, meanwhile, spoke with his Indian counterpart Jaswant Singh Sunday on New Delhi's role in the present crisis. 

During their 10-minute phone conversation, the Saudi minister said India's role in the situation was "crucial," foreign ministry spokeswoman Nirupama Rao said. 

Saudi Arabia and Pakistan are currently the only two states that accord diplomatic recognition to Afghanistan's ruling Taliban Islamic militia. 

Gen Oberoi, replying to questions, accused Pakistan of supporting the Taliban despite having pledged assistance to the United States in tracking down Osama bin Laden, the prime suspect in the September 11 terror attacks in the US that claimed the lives of nearly 7,000 people. 

"Whatever Pakistan may say at diplomatic levels, the fact is that it provides all kinds of supplies to Taliban, including weapons, oil and food... and if these supplies are choked, the militia will receive a severe blow," the general said. 

Oberoi appeared skeptical about Pakistan's pledge to help in the fight against terrorism. 

"The move is amazing considering that Pakistan is Taliban's creator and provides bases to international terrorist groups such as Lashker-e-Taiba, Jaish-e-Mohammad and Al Badr," he said. 

The Pakistan-based Lashker and Jaish Islamic separatist groups target Indian assets in Kashmir and guerrillas from Al Badr backed by Pakistan's regular army occupied strategic peaks of disputed Kashmir in 1999, triggering a full-scale military retaliation by India. 

Commander Oberoi also warned Islamabad to stay away from Kashmir, which is claimed by both India and Pakistan. 

"India is a power which wants to live peacefully... This is why we have exercised restraint despite all provocations. 

"If India's neighbors do not want to live in peace, New Delhi has the capability and strength to make them behave," Gen. Oberoi said without naming its immediate neighbors. 

The Hindu newspaper on Sunday, meanwhile, reported ongoing talks between India, Russia and Iran on ways to jointly back Afghanistan's opposition Northern Alliance against the Taliban. 

Officials told AFP India was likely to offer its "full backing" to the new military commander of the Afghan opposition, General Fahim, who took over after the September 9 assassination of Ahmad Shah Masood. 

Nuclear weapons-armed India and Pakistan have fought three wars, two of them over Kashmir since the subcontinent's 1947 freedom from Britain. 

New Delhi also accuses Pakistan of arming and training Islamic guerrillas in Kashmir. Islamabad denies the charge but offers diplomatic and moral support to what it describes as the Kashmiris' just struggle. 

More than 35,000 people have died in Kashmir since 1989 -- NEW DELHI (AFP)

© 2001 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)

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