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Monday, 17 September, 2001, 17:06 GMT 18:06 UK
India and Pakistan watch Afghanistan
Selling Bin Laden posters in Pakistan
South Asia's streets are already charged
By World Affairs correspondent Mike Wooldridge

South Asia is bracing itself for the possibility of a military operation in Afghanistan as part of the Americans' multi-pronged offensive against terrorism.

Among the countries with a crucial interest in how the crisis unfolds is Pakistan's much larger neighbour, India.

Indian soldier in Kashmir
Kashmir lies at the heart of differences
If developments continue down the present track, what might the implications be for a region that is already volatile?

"The world changed on 11 September" has been a much-used phrase during the past six days.

In South Asia, many will now be asking themselves whether this is about to come true for their own region.

Kashmir

India and Pakistan are on the face of it lining up together in the aftermath of the attacks in the United States in a way they have not done for years.

The two neighbours veer constantly between mutual suspicion and outright hostility, with the unresolved issue of Kashmir at the heart of their differences.

Pakistan's Shaheen missile
The nuclear dimension raises the stakes
As India sees it Kashmir, too, is an issue of terrorism - actively stoked up by Pakistan.

For Pakistan, it is an issue of Indian occupation of a Muslim-majority region. Tens of thousands of lives have been lost in a conflict that dates back to the carving of Islamic Pakistan out of India.

With both India and Pakistan nowadays nuclear capable, the Americans have characterised it as one of the world's most dangerous flashpoints.

Violence has continued there in the wake of last week's attacks in the United States.

Fighting for ground

While India and Pakistan both deal with the more immediate issue of how far they would co-operate with any US-led operation against Afghanistan, there are signs that their thinking is going well beyond this too.

India's Home Minister, LK Advani, for example, said any American strategy to crush international terrorism should take into account - as he put it - Pakistan's role in encouraging it.

Indian Home Minister LK Advani
LK Advani: "Pakistan's role needs to be examined"
And India says it is considering what steps it may need to take to contain the possible fallout from any US attack on Afghanistan and exodus of militants into neighbouring countries.

It says its forces are on high alert in Kashmir.

India is probably also looking warily at whether there might be any rewards for Pakistan for co-operating with the Americans and their allies and would undoubtedly be concerned about any easing of sanctions on the supply of military equipment, for example.

Pressure on Musharraf

There are many other pieces in the jigsaw.

They revolve around whether the Pakistan government may now rein in militant groups active on its own soil - and whether General Pervez Musharraf's authority will be strengthened or undermined through the actions that he takes in the coming days and weeks.

And, in the longer term, whether the international community decides to go beyond wringing its hands over Kashmir and tries to do more to tackle it as a source of tension and instability.

That would please Pakistan but, again, add to India's concerns - Delhi insists that it is an issue for India and Pakistan to resolve between themselves.

It is hardly surprising, perhaps, that a commentary on All India Radio says Delhi will have to "tread the Afghan ropeway" very cautiously in the next few days.

See also:

17 Sep 01 | Sci/Tech
Spy satellites search for Bin Laden
17 Sep 01 | South Asia
On edge: Afghanistan's neighbours
17 Sep 01 | South Asia
Afghanistan - a tough military option
17 Sep 01 | South Asia
Police killed in Kashmir attack
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