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Thursday, 27 December, 2001, 16:47 GMT
India and Pakistan crisis deepens
Indian anti-aircraft gun moving towards the Pakistan border
Fears are mounting of a serious conflict
India and Pakistan have announced tit-for-tat sanctions against one another as fears intensify that the two nuclear powers may be moving towards serious conflict.

It's not practical at the moment, nor possible for talks

Indian Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh

India was the first to impose the punitive measures, including a ban from 1 January on Pakistan's national airline from flying in Indian air space and a reduction by half of India's diplomatic staff in Islamabad and Pakistan's diplomats in Delhi.

Pakistan retaliated almost immediately, with similar restrictions.

The Indian sanctions were aimed at forcing Pakistan to take action against two Kashmir militant groups blamed for a suicide attack on India's parliament two weeks ago.

Tensions between the two neighbours have risen dramatically since the attack, which Delhi alleges was backed by Pakistani intelligence.

Pakistan denies any involvement.

No talks

Announcing the sanctions, Indian Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh also said the movements of all Pakistani diplomats in India would be confined to the Delhi city limits.

Mr Singh said the government was taking the measures because of Pakistan's attempts to "dupe" the international community with "cosmetic measures and non-measures" against militant groups operating in its territory.

India's Prithvi missiles: In position near border

Mr Singh also said talks with Pakistan were currently out of the question.

"It's not practical at the moment, nor possible for talks," he told reporters after the security cabinet meeting.

Pakistan said it was concerned at the turn of events.

"The Pakistan Government is greatly disappointed and saddened at these steps because these will fuel the atmosphere of tension," foreign ministry spokesman Aziz Ahmed Khan.

But he added that Islamabad had to respond in kind.

"We have to take reciprocal actions. We will slash their diplomatic staff by 50 %. Their staff will also be limited to Islamabad," Mr Khan said.

"We will also not permit overflying of Indian airlines," he added.

The United States has urged the two sides to meet, amid the biggest build-up of military hardware along their common border in almost 15 years.

India and Pakistan have fought three wars since independence and fears are mounting of another conflict.

But Mr Singh also tried to play down fears of war.

"There is nothing for you to worry about...we are fully prepared," he said.

India has already recalled its ambassador in Islamabad and says all cross-border bus and rail links will cease from 1 January.

Troop deployment

Indian Defence Minister George Fernandes said earlier that a new deployment of Indian troops along the entire border with Pakistan would be complete in the next few days.

Pakistani military spokesman General Rashid Quereshi countered that India's decision to move large numbers of troops to the frontier was a matter of serious concern.

He said that Pakistan's armed forces had also taken what he termed appropriate measures, and there should be no doubt in anyone's mind that Pakistan was capable of defending itself.

Sporadic clashes have intensified along their common border amid a massive build-up of troops, missiles and fighter aircraft.

Pakistani families leave their village on the border with India
Villagers have been fleeing the border as tension mounts
The latest showdown followed the US decision to place the two militant groups blamed for the Indian parliament attack on a list of proscribed terrorist organisations.

The designation freezes the US assets of the Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad groups.

Pakistan has already frozen the groups' assets and arrested the founder of the Jaish group.

But Mr Singh said those actions as meaningless, reiterating Delhi's demand that Islamabad shut down the two groups for good.

The BBC's Fiona Werge
"Politicians continue to make war-like noises"
The BBC's Rachel Wright
"The situation deteriorated rapidly"
Nirupama Rao, India's foreign ministry spokesperson
"We have had no option but to take the steps that our minister outlined"
Pakistani foreign affairs spokesman, Aziz Ahmed Khan
"Pakistan has exercised restraint"
See also:

27 Dec 01 | South Asia
Analysis: India's political calculation
26 Dec 01 | South Asia
US adds pressure on Pakistan
26 Dec 01 | South Asia
China urges border restraint
24 Dec 01 | South Asia
Kashmir police 'smash al-Qaeda cell'
24 Dec 01 | South Asia
Pakistan freezes militant funds
23 Dec 01 | South Asia
India-Pakistan tensions sharpen
21 Dec 01 | Americas
More groups join US terror blacklist
15 Dec 01 | South Asia
India steps up pressure on Pakistan
15 Dec 01 | South Asia
Suspects held over parliament raid
13 Dec 01 | South Asia
Pakistan leads world condemnation
18 Dec 01 | South Asia
India facing tough choices
23 Dec 01 | South Asia
Analysis: Al-Qaeda threat lives on
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