NEW DELHI - Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee was quoted in a newspaper interview
published on Monday as saying the nation was close to war and prepared even for
a nuclear conflict with Pakistan some weeks ago.
Senior government officials said the interview with the Dainik Jagran newspaper took place on Saturday but could not confirm the report was accurate. They refused to elaborate.
"The nation was prepared for war," Vajpayee was quoted as saying in the Hindi-language newspaper. "Our forces on the border were awaiting orders. Their morale was also high.
"India was prepared for an atomic war but we were confident that our neighbour would not commit such an act of madness," he added.
He said, however, that tensions had eased following Pakistan's commitment, conveyed through United States Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, to put a permanent halt to incursions by militants into Indian-ruled Kashmir.
Hindu-majority India accuses Pakistan, an Islamic nation, of training Muslim militants and sending them across the border into disputed and divided Kashmir to support a 12-year-old separatist rebellion there.
Pakistan says it gives only diplomatic and moral support to what it calls the Kashmiri struggle for self-determination.
"If Pakistan had not accepted the demand to stop cross-border infiltration and the United States had not conveyed to us Pakistan's guarantee to do so, then nothing could have stopped a war," Vajpayee was quoted as saying.
He said tensions had eased following Armitage's visit to the two nations in early June, but that India needed to see more proof of Pakistan's intentions.
"There are clear indications that the situation on the border is improving," the newspaper quoted Vajpayee as saying. "But without proper verification, India is not going to take (Pakistan President Pervez) Musharraf's statement about stopping infiltration at face value.
"India is not going to accept any Pakistani statement until infiltration is completely stopped and simultaneously terrorist training camps in Pakistani-occupied Kashmir and elsewhere in Pakistan are destroyed."
Tensions between the nuclear-armed rivals escalated after an attack on India's parliament in December, which New Delhi blamed on militants trained in Pakistan. The two sides now have a million soldiers posted along their heavily-militarised and mined border.
India's hawkish Home Minister Lal Krishna Advani said on Sunday that some 70 camps for training Kashmiri militants were in existence in Pakistan-administered Kashmir and elsewhere in that country.
"We have won a diplomatic victory over Pakistan and the entire nation is satisfied with it," Vajpayee was quoted as saying. "Nations around the world have categorically stated that whatever is happening in Kashmir is not a freedom struggle but terrorism in its worst form."
But he added: "There is no possibility of talks between the two countries until Pakistan stops infiltration permanently and ends terrorism.
"There is no question of any further steps till India is absolutely sure that
cross-border infiltration has stopped."
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