Tue, Jul 01, 2003 - Page 5 News List

Base attack set to test thaw between India, Pakistan

AFP , SRINAGAR, INDIA

An attack on an army camp in Indian Kashmir that left 14 dead is being considered an isolated incident, but further bloodshed by Islamic rebels could pose problems for reconciliation in South Asia, observers here said yesterday.

A security officer told reporters that India was "watching the situation keenly."

"If there is repetition of such attacks we can't rule out the hand of Pakistan," the officer said. "We are giving them the benefit of doubt this time."

Two rebels broke into the camp near the winter capital Jammu early on Saturday when soldiers were still asleep, setting off a four-hour gunbattle in which 12 soldiers and the two assailants died.

It was the single deadliest attack in Kashmir since Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee visited the summer capital Srinagar on April 18 and offered a "hand of friendship" to Pakistan to end more than a year of crisis-level tensions.

The two countries have since agreed to restore road and diplomatic links, severed after a December 2001 rebel attack on the Indian parliament.

Pakistan's new ambassador, Aziz Ahmed Khan, entered India yesterday in the most visible sign yet of reconciliation.

"New Delhi and Islamabad should regard [the army base attack] as an isolated incident and move ahead with their peace initiative," said analyst Showket Ahmed.

"So far it seems New Delhi has played down the incident, given the reaction it used to show to such attacks in the past."

A similar attack on Kalachuk army camp in Jammu in May last year sparked intense verbal duels between the nuclear-armed neighbors, with New Delhi blaming Pakistan for the attack that killed 35 people, mostly the wives and children of Indian troops, along with the three militants.

This time, however, the only such reaction has come from junior home minister Harin Pathak, not senior leaders.

But Ahmed stressed the tone could change if there are more attacks.

"If there is repetition of such incidents then there are definitely going to be problems," Ahmed said.

"There are elements who will try to derail the ongoing peace moves through such actions, but I think New Delhi has realized this and also that all such elements are not under the control of Islamabad."

The statement was echoed by another Indian junior minister for home affairs, I.D. Swami, who on Sunday said the attack was the work of "certain elements" in Pakistani Kashmir "who always try to sabotage all peace moves."

"I don't think such attacks are going to deter the determination of the central government and the step Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee has already taken, which has been praised all over the world," Swami told the Press Trust of India news agency.

Indian observers noted that New Delhi never expected a complete halt to violence when relations with Pakistan began warming.

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