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Indian Opposition Parties Offer Vajpayee Support - 2001-12-30

In India, all opposition parties have agreed to support the government if it is forced into a military confrontation with Pakistan. The Pakistani president also met leaders of political parties in his country to discuss the rising tensions between the nuclear neighbors. The Indian government emphasized that it hopes to use diplomacy to resolve the standoff between the two countries, which have massed troops along their common border in the last two weeks.

Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee told leaders of all political parties he hopes growing international pressure will force Pakistan to act against Islamic militant groups, which New Delhi accuses of responsibility for an attack on India's parliament earlier this month. Mr. Vajpayee called the meeting to forge a political consensus on his government's handling of the growing confrontation with Pakistan.

Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pramod Mahajan said all party leaders agreed that every possible diplomatic option should be pursued to avoid a war, but that they would back the government if war is thrust upon the country. "They accepted and appreciated every step taken by the government," he explained, "and even they accepted and approved the strategy revealed for the future. As I said, nobody in the meeting from the government side thought or suggested a military aggression kind of thing." So, he added "there is no question of giving time to diplomacy. What government is trying today is diplomacy, and nothing but diplomacy."

The current crisis between India and Pakistan was sparked by the deadly attack on India's parliament. New Delhi says it wants Pakistan to take decisive steps against militant groups targeting India. Pakistan denies backing any terrorist activity against India.

Both sides have massed troops along their border, and traded diplomatic tit-for-tat sanctions. President Bush has called leaders of both countries to urge restraint, and asked them to work together to reduce tensions in the region.

The Indian government has decided to send government and opposition party leaders to various world capitals starting next week to explain India's case against Pakistan. India and Pakistan have fought three wars since their independence in 1947, and came close to a fourth in 1999.