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Troops, Tensions Grow in Kashmir

RESPONSE TO TERROR

Asia: Despite buildup of soldiers and missiles along India-Pakistan border, U.S. believes crisis sparked by attack on Parliament in New Delhi can be defused.

December 26, 2001|BOB DROGIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The White House has accused UTN, a nongovernmental organization that claims to serve the needy in Afghanistan, of providing Bin Laden's Al Qaeda network with information on nuclear arms and other weapons of mass destruction. On Thursday, Bush added UTN to a list of financial organizations that support terrorism.

Pakistan's move to freeze the groups' assets may be mostly symbolic, however. LET officials said the group has no Pakistani bank accounts. UTN also is believed to raise funds from outside Pakistan.

India and Pakistan have fought two bitter wars over Kashmir, a mostly Muslim region that is claimed by both nations but is divided between them. Tens of thousands of people have died in a long-running insurgency in the Indian-controlled portion, and cross-border skirmishes on the rugged peaks and in the deep gorges are not unusual.

In the current crisis, six Indian soldiers, and at least five Pakistanis, have been reported killed over the last week as troops have traded mortar, machine gun and small-arms fire. Indian officials say several thousand civilians have fled the border area.

Leaders in both countries said Tuesday that they were prepared for another war but hoped to avoid it.

"We do not want war, but war is being thrust on us, and we will have to face it," Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee told a gathering at his residence in New Delhi.

In Islamabad, Pakistan's president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, said his nation's armed forces "are fully prepared and capable of defeating all challenges."

Musharraf also used a speech marking the 125th birthday of the nation's founder, Mohammed Ali Jinnah, to criticize Muslim extremists for tarnishing Islam's image by promoting hatred, according to wire service reports.

Speaking outside Jinnah's mausoleum in the coastal city of Karachi, Musharraf reminded the nation of Jinnah's moderate views and called on his countrymen to reject extremism.

"We have undermined Islam to a level that people of the world associate it with illiteracy, backwardness, intolerance," Musharraf said.

"Leave aside tolerating other religions," he said. "We refuse to accommodate views of various sects in our own religion."

The White House declined to comment on the latest developments. A State Department spokesman, Frederick Jones, said the department had nothing to add to a statement issued Friday by chief spokesman Richard Boucher.

"We urge both sides, and are urging both sides, to avoid any further escalation of tension," Boucher said then. "As we have always said, we believe it important for India and Pakistan to avoid fighting each other. At this point they have avoided fighting each other. We remain heavily engaged in this process, and we are trying to work with each of them."

Pakistan has been a crucial Washington ally in the Afghan war, and India was quick to offer support after the Sept. 11 attacks.

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Times staff writer Eric Slater in Islamabad contributed to this report.

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