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Intruders Exit as Fighting in Kashmir Ends

Asia: Mistrust between India and Pakistan remains high. More than 1,000 died in the border battle.

July 18, 1999|DEXTER FILKINS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — The two-month border war between India and Pakistan ended Saturday when the last of the Pakistani-backed intruders went home, leaving relations between the two countries in ruins and the issues that divide them as intractable as ever.

Indian officials reported Saturday that the last of the 1,000 forces who crossed the border from Pakistan in May had left their mountaintop positions along a strategic Indian highway in Kashmir and retreated into Pakistan. While Pakistani officials refused to verify that claim, they said most of the fighters had left the area.

"It has been a costly victory," Indian Defense Minister George Fernandes said. "Victory at the expense of the blood of our brave soldiers."

With the fighting finally over, people on both sides of the border began taking stock of the conflict, which left more than 1,000 dead and hundreds wounded, and brought the region to the brink of all-out war. While Indians and Pakistanis took solace that the fighting did not spin out of control, they seemed deeply split over how the neighbors might finally live in peace.

"The mistrust that has been created will take a long time to go away," said Ghazi Salahuddin, a newspaper columnist in Pakistan. "The hawks on both sides have successfully poisoned the atmosphere."

In India, jubilation over the defeat of the invaders was tempered by the knowledge that a vigorous American intervention was needed to finally bring the fighting in the disputed region to an end. India's leaders have long insisted that the primary conflict between India and Pakistan--the territory of Kashmir--be settled between the two of them. Now, after blocking a Pakistani effort to resolve the Kashmir issue by force, India's leaders said resuming a dialogue in the near future is pointless.

"There is an immense feeling of betrayal in India," a senior Indian diplomat said. "While we were extending the hand of friendship, they were planning a military operation.

"The Pakistanis will find that regaining trust is a lot more difficult than regaining territory."

In Pakistan, public officials and private citizens began to grapple with the realization that their country's gamble in Kashmir had failed in almost every respect. Many Western diplomats believe that the Pakistani military launched the operation in hopes that the West would intervene--largely out of fear that the two nuclear-armed countries might stumble into a larger war. Pakistan's leaders have been asking the West to force a Kashmir settlement on India since 1947, when the two countries gained independence from Britain and tore the region apart.

Although President Clinton ultimately helped broker an end to the recent fighting, both he and other Western leaders refused to do anything more than demand that Pakistani leaders pull their fighters out of Kashmir. At a July 4 meeting in Washington, Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif committed himself to withdrawing the troops, which Washington insisted were not home-grown guerrilla fighters but out-of-uniform Pakistani soldiers.

Now, despite vigorous efforts by the Pakistani leaders to portray the pullout as a victory, Pakistanis are voicing their anger and disgust.

"It was a great fiasco," said Lt. Gen. Talat Masood, a former Pakistani secretary of defense. "This was a high-risk gamble to attract the world's attention, and no one thought it through."

Many Pakistanis voiced particular dismay over their government's insistence that its own troops had not crossed into Indian territory. Western diplomats said the operation, which involved moving hundreds of troops onto the Himalayan peak, was planned and executed by the Pakistan army.

"If we had just come out and said our troops were there, that they were fighting for a just cause, we might have had some support," said Zafar Iqbal Cheema, a professor at Quaid-i-Azam University in Islamabad. "The government undermined its own position."

Despite the humiliation wrought on Pakistan, few people here believe that Sharif's government is in any immediate danger. In the past two years, Sharif has systematically neutralized almost every other institution in Pakistan: He sent rival Benazir Bhutto into exile. He turned the president into a figurehead. His cronies have harassed newspaper reporters critical of his regime. Almost no one here seems to have any idea how Sharif or his generals decided to go to war with India--or how they decided to get out.

Some Pakistanis fear that the long-term threat to Sharif--and to Pakistani democracy--comes from the extreme Islamic parties and their militant supporters. The religious parties enthusiastically backed the Pakistani military venture in Kargil, and they boasted of sending hundreds of moujahedeen, or freedom fighters, to the front. When Sharif decided to pull out, they screamed betrayal.

"The Pakistani nation will turn against Sharif," said Alifuddin Urabi of Jamaat-i-Islami, Pakistan's largest religious party.

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