Pakistan put its capital city on a war footing last night as tension with India in the disputed state of Kashmir increased.
The military government called out civil defense volunteers and canceled all leave for Islamabad officials.
Food and fuel stocks will be monitored in preparation for a war which many analysts on both sides of the border fear is imminent.
Supporters of Pakistan's President Gen. Pervez Musharraf rally in favor of Pakistan's army, Thursday, May 23, 2002 in Karachi, Pakistan. Banner in front reads "We salute to Pakistan army, we will give lesson to Indian army". Pakistan and India are on high tension over the Kashmir dispute.(AP Photo/Anwar Abbas)
First aid, firefighting and rescue courses will be held in Islamabad in the coming days.
"All departments and ministries have been directed to update their contingency plans immediately to deal with any emergency situation," the state news agency said.
In Lahore, 30 miles from the Indian border just south of Kashmir, the provincial governor, Lieutenant-General Khalid Maqbool, held an emergency meeting to discuss the threat.
Thousands of civil defense volunteers have been deployed and hospital beds reserved for emergencies. Boy scouts and girl guides will help with first aid. Thousands of tons of wheat and sugar are being kept as an emergency reserve.
The two armies exchanged heavy artillery fire across the line of control dividing Kashmir yesterday.
Pakistan's senior military spokesman said the army was ready for any threat. "Pakistan has a fully functional military capable of defending every inch of its territory," Major-General Rashid Qureshi said.
Although Pakistan's army is regarded as better trained than India's, it is vastly outnumbered, and it is considering recalling the 4,000 soldiers who make up the biggest contingent of the UN peacekeeping mission in Sierra Leone.
"This is one of the many options," a defense official said. "We are also considering recalling 500,000 reserve soldiers and officers to face any situation in the event of a war with India."
Islamabad is also expected to recall many of the 12,000 soldiers patrolling the border with Afghanistan, who include commandos involved in the search for al-Qaida members in the sensitive tribal areas. The Pentagon admits that this will harm the hunt for al-Qaida and Taliban remnants.
India and Pakistan have hundreds of thousands of soldiers along their heavily mined border, and India has moved five warships closer to Pakistan.
In Islamabad, military analysts say the Pakistani generals, fully aware that their forces would be outnumbered in a conventional war, are ready to use their nuclear arsenal. Dozens of scenarios have been played through and analyzed at army headquarters in Rawalpindi.
"My view is that for Pakistan it would be much easier to use the nuclear option, even though it would be totally suicidal," said the retired Lieutenant-General Talat Masood, a defense analyst.
"I think they [the generals] are very prepared now. I think the mood is changing and they are more or less completely ready for war," he added.
Pakistan is keen to bring the US in to mediate in the dispute, and has pressed the UN to step in. Yesterday one of its leading newspapers, the News, criticized the US for being slow to help.
"An all-too-convenient escalatory chain of events in Indian-held Kashmir is fast pushing the two south Asian nuclear-powered antagonists towards a catastrophe," it said. "The writing is very much on the wall. Yet the US continues to equivocate."
The US ambassador, Wendy Chamberlin, who returns home next week, said that war was a real prospect, and private discussions to ease the tension were in progress.
"We think it is very serious. We are very concerned about the threat of war," she said. She predicted more terrorist attacks. Threats by Islamist militants have forced the British high commission to send home many diplomats and their families.
The Karachi stock market closed yesterday after four days of heavy losses. Although technical faults were blamed, an official said the closure was to prevent more heavy falls. It has been one of the best performing in Asia, but has fallen 16% in the past week alone.
© Guardian Newspapers Limited 2002