Tension between India and Pakistan has mounted after the terrorist the attack on the Indian parliament early this month. India, which blames Pakistan for sponsoring that attack, has recalled its ambassador in Islamabad and cut transportation links. Both countries are said to have moved troops closer to the border in recent days. This raises fears of a conflict between India and Pakistan while a U.S.-led coalition is engaged in eliminating terrorist bases in Afghanistan.
India says members of two militant groups fighting Indian rule in Kashmir-Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad, took part in the December 13 attack on India's parliament. The organizations, based in Pakistan, deny the charge. India blames Pakistan's intelligence service, ISI, for sponsoring the attack, saying it was meant to wipe out the entire Indian leadership.
Pakistan's president, General Pervez Musharraf, has promised to punish anyone responsible for the attack but not without proof. Pakistan has called on India to prove that the militant groups are to blame. But India has refused to do so.
The incident has led to fears of a military conflict between the two countries both of which both have nuclear weapons and have already fought three full-scale wars.
Riffat Hussain is a professor at Quaid-e-Azam University in Islamabad. "I think this situation is very serious particularly when it is viewed against the backdrop of credible media reports that India is now amassing troops along the LOC [Line of Control in Kashmir]," he says. "This is something, which is very serious and both countries now need to sit together, resume their dialogue and they should be using the path of dialogue to settle their differences rather than encouraging some kind of a war psychosis because this is something which can really get out of control."
The United States is trying to defuse the rising tensions. President Bush has said a flare-up in the region could create severe problems for the anti-terrorism coalition in Afghanistan to eliminate terrorist bases. That is why, according to Mr. Hussain, there is unlikely to be further escalation of tensions.
"The last thing that they [United States] want is having two members of this coalition, India and Pakistan, coming to blows with each other over Kashmir," said Mr. Hussain. "Because that is not only going to detract the United States from its main goal of fighting against international terrorism, this is also going to put tremendous pressure on Pakistan to ignore what is happening on its border with Afghanistan and pay all the attention to the eastern front. And for that reason alone, I think it does not serve either the American interest or the Pakistani interest to be distracted by some kind of a war like diversion on the eastern front."
The United States has also urged President Musharraf to take action against militant groups in Pakistan. On Thursday, President Bush ordered a freeze on the assets of Lashkar-e-Taiba, one of two Pakistan-based militant groups India blames for the attack on its parliament. The group is accused of staging a number of suicide attacks in Indian Kashmir, as well.
Washington's decision to condemn Lashkar-e-Taiba as a terrorist group is seen as a blow to the traditional Pakistani stance on the armed insurgency in Indian Kashmir, which it calls a freedom struggle.
Humayun Khan, who once served as Pakistan's foreign secretary and is the country's former ambassador to India, says, "I think by and large we should admit to ourselves that many of these organizations which exist in Pakistan are seen abroad in a different light than we try to project them. We were all expecting that after the situation in Afghanistan was over there would be some pressure or at least some friendly persuasion of Pakistan to stop the activities of these militias and these Lashkars. Now, unfortunately this has been precipitated by the parliament incident in Delhi."
Most of the organizations taking part in the ongoing armed insurgency in Indian Kashmir have their headquarters in Pakistan. New Delhi accuses Islamabad of supporting these groups as they carry out attacks to try to create instability in India. Pakistan denies the charge and says it only provides moral, diplomatic and political support to the groups.