Indian attack on Kashmir guerrillas raises alarm in Pakistan
May 26, 1999
NEW DELHI, India (CNN) -- Indian airstrikes in the divided Himalayan province of Kashmir brought new warnings from Pakistan, which said Wednesday that Indian bombs were falling on Pakistani-controlled territory.
Both India and Pakistan claim all of the region, which is divided between them by a U.N.-monitored cease-fire line. Kashmir was the flash point in two of the three wars between Pakistan and India, both of which tested nuclear weapons last year.
India said its air force jets and helicopters fired on about 600 guerrilla fighters in mountain positions in its part of Kashmir. Pakistani leaders warned of retaliation if the strikes crossed into their territory, and suggested that India's real objective was to seize more of the province.
India said it used air power in the Kargil and Dras regions because the infiltrators were in "considerable strength" and included several well-trained mercenaries. Indian officials said the infiltrators posed a threat to Indian supply lines.
The strikes have been effective so far, said Brigadier Mohan Bhandari, an Indian military spokesman.
India's defense ministry said the attacks would continue "till our defense forces reoccupy our territory."
Primarily Hindu India accuses majority-Muslim Pakistan's intelligence agency ISI of aiding the Islamic separatist guerrillas -- a claim Pakistan denies.
"The Pakistan army and the ISI are making use of these hired mercenaries -- primarily Afghans -- as cannon fodder to further their sinister designs," Bhandari said.
In Pakistan's capital Islamabad, Foreign Minister Sartaj Aziz said there were no connections between the guerrilla movement, Tehrik-i-Jihad, and Islamabad.
Aziz said Pakistan did not plan to escalate the crisis, but added, "If we are forced, we are prepared to defend our position."
Pakistan and India went to war over Kashmir in 1948 and 1965. The region is now divided by a 720-kilometer (450-mile), U.N.-drawn line of control: Indian Air Commodore Subash Bhojwani said his planes were avoiding any damage on the Pakistani side of that line.
A military spokesman said Pakistan reserved the right to retaliate "by whatever means are considered appropriate" if the fighting intruded on Pakistani-controlled territory.
"A few bombs have landed on our side of the LOC (line of control), this makes matters, very, very serious," army spokesman Brigadier Rashid Quereshi told a news conference.
Though the two countries periodically exchange mortar and cannon fire across the dividing line, Wednesday's strikes were India's first use of air power since 1990.
India has battled the separatists in Kashmir since early 1990. The guerrilla movement claims control over about 500 square kilometers (193 square miles) and said it had not suffered any losses as a result of the strikes.
"We are equipped with sophisticated and modern weapons," a spokesman for the militants told Reuters. "India has tried but, so far, they could not get an inch of territory."
The group said it has the support of three other guerrilla movements in the area.
Quereshi suggested that India's objective was not only to put down a rebel movement but to seize additional territory in Kashmir. He said India moved about 12,000 troops backed by combat planes and helicopter gunships into the area in the last two weeks -- a force Quereshi said far exceeded what the Indian army needed to crush the infiltrators.
"There is something definitely more sinister than just combating freedom fighters," Quereshi said.
New Delhi Bureau Chief Satinder Bindra and Reuters contributed to this report.
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