India Weighs The Risks
Of War With Pakistan
By Terry Friel

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - Over the next few days, India will have to weigh whether a military strike against Kashmiri separatists it blames for the suicide attack on parliament would be worth the risk of war with Pakistan.
Analysts say Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee now has no choice but to abandon the restraint he has shown in the past and take tough action if Pakistan refuses New Delhi's demands to crush the separatist groups operating from its soil.
New Delhi has given Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf days to close two Kashmiri separatist groups, freeze their assets and arrest their leaders.
"This time, the prime minister will have to respond if Pakistan does not do anything," Brahma Chellaney, an analyst with the Centre for Policy Research, told Reuters on Sunday.
"As prime minster, he is supposed to protect national security and how can you do that if you just sit back and let these groups attack the heart of India's democracy?
"(Musharraf).. has to act, or he has to face action," he said, adding Vajpayee's options ran from diplomatic to military.
Pressure is growing for tough retaliation over Thursday's suicide attack, blamed on Kashmiri separatists, on the parliament of the world's largest democracy in which 13 people died.
Analysts are divided on whether India's response should include military strikes against Kashmiri separatists in Pakistan, which would raise the threat of the nuclear rivals going to war over Kashmir for a third time since independence.
"A series of surgical strikes could be of use for domestic audiences on the eve of... (state) elections, but it is unlikely to benefit India in its war against terrorists," commentator Vipul Mudgal wrote in the Hindustan Times.
Prime minister Vajpayee points out New Delhi's restraint over past violence, including a suicide attack on the Jammu and Kashmir state assembly two months ago that killed 30, but says his patience has run out and has hinted at military action.
However, publicly at least, he is still leaving his options open and has urged the international community to put pressure on Musharraf to crack down on the militant groups. Analysts and diplomats say the United States could play a key role in brokering a face-saving compromise.
While pledging to act against groups proven guilty of terrorism, Musharraf on Saturday warned India any "precipitous action" would be met with force.
Almost a dozen Pakistan-based groups are fighting Indian rule in the Himalayan region of Kashmir, India's only Muslim majority state in which between 30,000 and 80,000 people have died in 12 years of insurgency.
New Delhi accuses Islamabad of sponsoring the groups. Pakistan denies this, saying it gives moral, but not military, support to people it calls "freedom fighters".
Vajpayee is being pressed by his own Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), facing a litmus test election in India's biggest state in February, to use force.
The two main military options are air strikes against known guerrilla bases, or sending troops across the Line of Control dividing Kashmir between India and Pakistan to hunt the rebels.
"If Pakistan does not take action against these terrorist groups operating from their soil, Pakistan will have to pay the price for it," BJP president Jana Krishnamurthy told reporters in the southern city of Madras on Sunday.
He shrugged off the possibility of military action triggering a wider conflict with Pakistan.
"The government is aware of our strength as well as the relative strength of our neighbour... and nothing should deter us from taking such actions as are necessary to put an end to these acts of terrorism," he said.
This war of words over has undermined efforts to improve relations between New Delhi and Islamabad.
Vajpayee and Musharraf had been scheduled to talk over a breakfast on the sidelines of a regional summit in the Nepali capital of Kathmandu in early January. It is now unclear if that summit will even go ahead in the wake of last Thursday's attack.
"Indeed there are signs that this recent act of rogue terrorism was desperately aimed at undermining certain Indo-Pak and Indo-Kashmir initiatives," Najam Sethi, editor of Lahore's The Friday Times wrote in Sunday's The Times of India.
Pakistani English language paper The Nation warned of the dangers of hardliners prevailing in India, emboldened by Islamabad's cooperation with the United States' war on terrorism.
"Even now, there is time for India to ponder whether starting a war would solve anything," it said in an editorial.
"Unfortunately, Pakistan's ready falling in with U.S. demands since September 11 has probably created a wrong impression in New Delhi about the government's resolve to defend national sovereignty.
"New Delhi seems sure to make a mistake."
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