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Friday, May 28, 1999 Published at 14:33 GMT 15:33 UK

World: South Asia

Analysis: What went wrong in Kashmir?

Tension in the region has led to mass civilian evacuation

By Chandrika Deshpande

The current escalation in tensions in the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir is leading to fears of a widening conflict between India and Pakistan.

Only a few months ago the two countries seemed to be moving towards improving relations. So what went wrong?

After tit-for-tat nuclear tests last year, the two countries appeared to move closer together.

[ image: The bus service brought hopes of peace]
The bus service brought hopes of peace
This was, in part, to reassure the international community that the two new nuclear-armed states would not bring about a nuclear conflict on the sub-continent.

In February, an historic visit by Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee to Pakistan was intended to push that message further, and the resulting Lahore Declaration sought to bring about a cross-border dialogue on their declared nuclear capability.

A subsequent Pakistan trade mission to India highlighted the need for cross-border trade between the two.

But Kashmir has always been a sticking point.

Confusion and miscalculation

Some analysts are keen to play down the importance of the latest incident, in view of the wider improvement in Indo-Pakistan relations.

They say that neither India nor Pakistan have a gameplan and that the current situation is the result of confusion and miscalculation. They also say it is a localised problem and a matter of mismanagement along the border area.

But as the game of claim and counterclaim continues over the events in the mountainous area around Kargil, there can be no ignoring the fact that this is the most serious crisis within the region since 1991, when militant insurgency reached its height.

Domestic pressures

[ image:  ]
The situation is, in part, one of embarrassment for the Indian army, which was caught unaware by the militants who managed to dig in quickly in the mountainous terrain.

India had decided to use airpower because it believed it would be a more effective and cost-efficient way of clearing the area without employing a large number of groundtroops.

Pakistan recognises India's military superiority in terms of the size of its conventional forces. But domestic forces in both countries will, ultimately, determine the course each government takes.

Pakistan's Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif may be swayed by public opinion, which is unlikely to tolerate what it sees as unprovoked Indian aggression. And while Mr Sharif may be reluctant to retaliate, he must retain the confidence of his armed forces.

Some argue that without a resolution on Kashmir, which was always likely to be a flashpoint between the two countries, the improving relations between India and Pakistan were just illusory.

According to this view, the world media was overly optimistic about moves by both sides to patch up their differences.

The events in Kashmir come at a time when the BJP is trying to stress its commitment to national security ahead of September's general election.

Neither India nor Pakistan can afford an escalation in the crisis,despite what public opinion in both countries might want.

But neither can Mr Sharif or Mr Vajpayee afford to look weak. And while they may not want the hostilities to intensify, the danger is that the forces they have unleashed could spiral out of control over the disputed region.

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