Pakistan Says Indian
Buildup Mounting
Despite Militant Crackdown

(AFP) - Pakistan said that India's military buildup was mounting along the border despite hopes its clampdown on militant groups would defuse tensions between the nuclear-capable rivals.
The United States has welcomed the arrest of some 100 officials and activists from two Pakistan-based Kashmiri groups India accuses of mounting a raid on its parliament. New Delhi also hailed it as "a step forward".
But while the neighbours appeared to be backing away from a dangerous standoff sparked by the December 13 assault, shells continued to pound both sides of the frontier dividing the disputed Himalayan state of Kashmir.
"All along the border there is a continuing Indian military buildup and concentration of forces far in excess of what we have seen in the past," said military government spokesman Major General Rashid Qureshi.
Its proximity to the border and the Line of Control (LoC) de facto frontier "poses a threat to Pakistan," which continued to take "appropriate defensive measures so as not to be surprised or caught unawares," he said.
Terrified villagers on both sides of the border were continuing to flee their homes in their thousands Tuesday amid fears of war.
President George W. Bush on Monday praised the clampdown on Kashmiri militants ordered by Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf, who has become a key ally in the US-led war on terrorism.
"He's cracking down hard, and I appreciate his efforts. Terror is terror and the fact that the Pakistani president is after the terrorists is a good sign," Bush said.
The US leader, who spoke to Musharraf and his Indian counterpart Atal Behari Vajpayee on Saturday as tensions reached boiling point, said he had urged New Delhi not to go to war over the attack on parliament.
"I explained to the Indian prime minister that while I understood his anger, I was hoping they were not headed for war," he said.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair is also due to arrive in Islamabad next Monday for a one-day visit aimed at defusing the row between India and Pakistan. His South Asian tour will also take him to Bangladesh and India.
As the two nations took the first cautious steps towards a settlement of their dispute, there were hopes they might agree to high-level talks at an upcoming South Asian leadership summit in Nepal's capital Kathmandu.
However, Pakistan Foreign Minister Abdul Sattar said there was no sign of a dialogue taking place at the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) meet, despite Islamabad's desire for talks at any level.
"Pakistan will be very happy to have a meeting at any level, whether it is at the heads of government level or the foreign minister level," Sattar told AFP in Kathmandu. "However, so far no formal proposals have been made."
While India has repeatedly ruled out direct talks between Musharraf and Indian premier Atal Behari Vajpayee, it had hinted at a possible dialogue between the countries' two foreign ministers.
But a senior Indian official in the Nepalese capital who asked not to be identified told AFP that "in fact there will be no bilateral talks at all."
Vajpayee held out the prospect of a dialogue in a special message to Pakistan contained in a New Year's article that was quoted on the front pages of most Indian newspapers Tuesday.
"Shed your anti-India mentality and take effective steps to stop cross-border terrorism, and you will find India willing to walk more than half the distance to work closely with Pakistan to resolve, through dialogue, any issue, including the contentious issue of Jammu and Kashmir," he said.
United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan, who has been in touch with both countries in recent days, also urged the neighbours to seize the opportunity for dialogue at the SAARC summit.
Annan welcomed Pakistan's crackdown on militants, his spokesman Fred Eckhard said, adding that he "believes that such measures are an important step towards easing tensions in the region."
Copyright © 2001 AFP. All rights reserved.

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