NEW DELHI - India's army chief Gen. Sunderajan Padmnabhan on Friday
dared Pakistan's president and military ruler, Gen Pervez
Musharraf, to launch a nuclear first strike against his
country, stepping up bilateral tensions even further.
''If he (Musharraf) is man enough, let me correct that, if
he is mad enough to override international opinion on that
scale, then surely he must do it (launch a nuclear
strike),'' Padmanabhan said at a press conference, a day
before Musharraf was due to make a televised address
outlining his policy toward 'jihadist' groups operating from
Following a visit by British Prime Minister Tony Blair to
the sub-continent earlier this week to help defuse tension
as the nuclear-armed neighbors massed troops along their
3,000 km border, pressure has been growing on Musharraf to
clearly state his stand on terrorism.
''We are looking forward to the speech he (Musharraf) will
be giving later this week, which I think will be a powerful
signal to his nation and to India and to the rest of the
world,'' U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell was quoted as
telling journalists in Washington following a meeting with
India's Interior Minister Lal Krishna Advani on Thursday.
Powell prompted Musharraf to include in the address,
scheduled for Saturday evening, ''a condemnation of
terrorism of any kind, because it is no longer acceptable in
the 21st century for nations to live under this kind of
For Musharraf, that would be a clear comedown from the
position he took at last week's South Asian summit in
Kathmandu, where he reiterated that ''freedom struggles''
had to be differentiated from terrorism.
Musharraf's reference was to the territory of Kashmir, the
possession of which is disputed by Pakistan and India when
they were created by dividing what was British India until
independence in 1947.
Since then, the armies of the two countries have fought each
other to a standstill along the Line of Control (LoC), which
runs through Kashmir and across which artillery fire is
India alleges that Pakistan has been arming and training
'jihadist' groups to foment separatist violence in its
portion of Kashmir, but Pakistan claims that these are
indigenous groups fighting for freedom.
After a suicide squad made an aborted attempt to blow up
Indian Parliament on Dec.13, India's normally mild-mannered
prime minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, said his patience was
at an end.
He and his Cabinet ordered the halving of the strength of
diplomatic Missions, the recall of India's high commissioner
in Islamabad and banned flights by Pakistani aircraft over
But what set alarm bells ringing internationally was the
reported redeployment of the bulk of India's more than a
million-strong army, along with tanks and missile batteries,
on the border with Pakistan, where US troops fighting the
war against terror in Afghanistan are based.
The 'New York Times' reported Friday that the US national
security staff has intensified surveillance in the region
for any evidence of the two countries deploying their
''We are significantly more worried today than were several
days ago,'' the 'Times' quoted a senior member of President
George W Bush's national security staff as saying.
Padmanabhan admitted that a nuclear exchange between the two
neighbors would be ''disastrous'', but was confident that
India would survive a first strike by Pakistan to inflict
unacceptable damage on its adversary.
''Let me assure you of one thing as surely as I'm alive,''
he said. ''Should a nuclear weapon be used against India,
Indian forces, our assets at sea, economic, human or other
targets, the perpetrators of that outrage shall be punished
so severely that their continuation thereafter in any form
or fray will be doubtful.''
Echoing the stand of other Indian officials, Padmanabhan
dismissed steps taken by Pakistan since the Dec 13 attack.
He said the banning of two 'jihadist' groups that India
named as responsible for the attack on its Parliament and
the arrest of some of their leaders and cadres was
''cosmetic'', and meant for the benefit of the US forces
''The terrorist cadres have been dispersed -- some to nearby
villages, others to Pakistan Army units - so that they won't
come to the notice of US forces,'' he added.
In addition to its call for the closure of 'jihadist' camps
operating from Pakistani territory, India has also demanded
that Islamabad extradite 20 individuals, on charges ranging
from hijacking to acts of terrorism.
Musharraf, under growing pressure at home not to be seen as
giving in too much to India, has refused to comply with his.
He said that Pakistan could try, in its territory, whoever
was involved in the Indian Parliament attack.
India has matched its military posture with a diplomatic
offensive led by Advani, who is currently campaigning for
New Delhi's position in Washington as India tries to get the
United States to bear down on Pakistan under the
international campaign against terrorism.
Powell, who is due to travel to South Asia next week to
counsel peace, was quoted as saying he has indicated to
Advani that the United States was hopeful.
Copyright © 2002 IPS-Inter Press Service