NEW DELHI, India India said its missiles were "in position," air force jets flew near the Pakistan border every few minutes and frontier forces exchanged gunfire Wednesday as the two nuclear-armed nations prepared for a war both say they don't want.
India's Cabinet Committee on Security was meeting Wednesday evening to discuss further diplomatic pressure on Pakistan, including a possible ban on Pakistan airline flights, abrogation of a water treaty, downgrading of embassies, and cancellation of Pakistan's "most favored nation" trading status.
"Missile systems are in position," Defense Minister George Fernandes told Press Trust of India. India's arsenal includes medium-range Russian missiles and the Indian-made Prithvi I, which can be fired from a mobile launcher and has a range of 93 miles.
Pakistan and Indian news media reported that Pakistani missiles including medium-range Chinese-made weapons had also been put on alert, while troops on both sides moved toward the border.
Pakistani soldiers camouflage an anti-aircraft gun near the Karachi port on December 26, 2001, as the tension between India and Pakistan rises. With the neighbors who have fought three wars exchanging fire across their border and civilians in the area fleeing their homes, India's defense minister said his country's missile systems were 'in position.' (Zahid Hussein/Reuters)
Both sides' missile systems can be converted to deliver nuclear warheads, but it is not clear whether such steps have been taken.
Pakistan's president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, warned against India against any military action, saying Tuesday that Pakistan's armed forces "are fully prepared and capable of defeating all challenges."
But he also criticized Muslim militants in Pakistan, who he said have "undermined Islam to a level that people of the world associate it with illiteracy, backwardness, intolerance."
India has demanded Pakistan take further steps against two Muslim militant groups that New Delhi accuses of being behind a Dec. 13 gun attack on Parliament that left 14 dead. Tensions between the two countries have spiraled, with India saying Pakistan's spy agency sponsored the attack, a charge Islamabad denies.
There have been daily exchanges of gunfire between the troops, although officials from both sides said the border region was relatively calm Wednesday.
In contrast to previous periods of tension with India, Pakistan has been more cautious with its rhetoric. Officials in Islamabad have declined comment, saying they do not wish to escalate the war of words.
Pakistan's position has been bolstered by its new presence on the world stage, which has increased with its cooperation with the U.S.-led coalition against terrorism.
Pakistan froze the assets of Lashkar-e-Tayyaba and Jaish-e-Mohammed, which India accuses in the Parliament attack and which are battling to end Indian rule in Kashmir. Pakistan also briefly detained the leader of Jaish-e-Mohammed on Tuesday. But New Delhi said the steps fall far short of its demand that the groups' activities be halted and their leaders arrested and handed over to India.
India and Pakistan have fought three wars since their violent division at independence from Britain in 1947. Two of the wars have been over Kashmir, the mostly Muslim Himalayan region that is divided between them. Both claim all of it.
"We do not want war, but war is being thrust on us and we will have to face it," Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee said at a public address at his residence Tuesday, celebrating his 77th birthday.
India recalled its ambassador from Islamabad and announced plans to shut down train and bus service between the two countries on Jan. 1, saying the diplomatic offensive is intended to pressure Musharraf to take strong action against the guerrillas.
Islamic militants have carried out strikes in the Indian part of the Kashmir region since 1989, fighting for independence or merger with Pakistan in an insurgency that human rights groups say has killed more than 60,000 people. India says the militants have also struck elsewhere, including at Parliament, where 14 people, including five attackers, were killed.
Musharraf condemned the Parliament attack, but said he would take no action without proof against the militants, whom he calls "freedom fighters." He denies that his government helps or has any control over them.
India is also lobbying for international pressure on Pakistan, comparing the militants with the terrorist network that the U.S.-led coalition is fighting in Afghanistan.
Soldiers traveled to the border state of Rajasthan by train Wednesday and air force jets flew over the border town of Jaisalmer every seven minutes.
However, despite anti-aircraft batteries posted at airports and the army turning schools into bunkers, there were signs that war was not the first priority.
A summit of the seven South Asian leaders including Vajpayee and Musharraf remained scheduled for next week in Katmandu, and Nepal said it had assurances that both men intended to come.
News reports quoted Indian military sources as saying they would not be ready for a full-scale war for several months and would prefer to avoid fighting in the winter.
© 2001 The Associated Press