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US South Asian Immigrants Anxious About Indo-Pakistan Tensions

Thousands of Indian and Pakistani immigrants in the United States are anxiously watching developments in their native lands. Many say they are concerned about what will happen to their friends and relatives back home if full-scale war breaks out.

Saturday in Chicago was the day for the local observance of Vaisakhi, a harvest festival that represents the start of the Sikh New Year. Shiva Singh Khalsa of Chicago says it also marks the creation of the Khalsa in 1699.

"It was a spiritual family that had no caste, no gender differences and accepted anyone to be a part of it. It was basically a group of people who were committed to serve the community," he said.

Community was the theme of a Vaisakhi parade and festival, in a Chicago neighborhood where many Indians and Pakistanis live. "It was designed to invite, Pakistanis, Hindu Indians, Punjabis and all these people who practice different faiths and write different languages but their culture and food is all identical," said. Mr. Shiva.

While India and Pakistan remain on the brink of war, many people who have moved to Chicago from those countries, such as Mohinderjit Singh Saini, say they are still hopeful this latest crisis can be resolved peacefully.

"We do not feel good about what is happening at this moment. That is what is happening there. We do not want war to happen," he said. "We pray that something good comes and there is no war. We pray for peace."

One Indian immigrant, who asked us not to use his name, said some people back home think war might be necessary to resolve the dispute over Kashmir.

"A lot of people, Indians, a lot of Indians want war. They want to finish this one way or the other. Too many innocent people die every day now," he said.

Several people here say they speak often with friends and relatives back home. Rama Tauseef has family in Pakistan. "They are scared, too. They are scared," he said.

But he says despite troop movements and Pakistani missile tests in recent days, war can still be avoided thanks to outside help, in part from United States officials.

"It [war] is close too, but I do not think so, because American [Deputy Secretary of State] Richard Armitage is going there and the other guy, [Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld] is going there," he said.

The United States is among several countries advising their citizens to leave India and Pakistan. Mr. Saini is not sure that advisory is necessary, but thinks it might help promote peace.

"To some extent it is overreacting, but it is also a good policy to put pressure on both India and Pakistan so that they will think about not going into war and handle it diplomatically," he said.

Chicago's Sikh population is especially concerned about the possibility of an Indian-Pakistani war, not just because India is their native country, but also because the home state of many Sikhs, Punjab, is on the Pakistani border.