For Indian Troops on LoC, Anger Hasn't Subsided - by Celia W. Dugger Back   Home  
PALANWALA, India, June 14: For Indian Army commanders here on the front lines of a major military confrontation with Pakistan, it is as if the past week of Palanwala has been heavily affected by shelling and incursionshopeful talk about decreasing tensions passed them by.

It is a month to the day since three attackers killed soldiers' wives and children in their homes. Today, the generals said in briefings and interviews during an army-guided tour that they were still angry about the attack, for which they blamed Pakistan's intelligence agency.

They also said they were skeptical about claims, accepted this week by senior Indian officials in New Delhi, that Pakistan's military ruler was reducing infiltration by Islamic guerrillas across the border into the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir.

India's army is firmly under the control of the elected government, unlike in Pakistan, where Gen. Pervez Musharraf has governed since a coup in 1999. But at a time when hundreds of thousands of Indian troops are massed at the border and American officials still worry that India and Pakistan could stumble into war, the psychology of India's fighting men and officers is no small matter.

Today's guided tour was billed as the first time since India mounted its huge military buildup six months ago that the army had taken a large group of journalists to the Line of Control that divides Jammu and Kashmir from Pakistan-held Kashmir.

But the tour in predominantly Hindu Jammu, instead of more heavily Muslim areas, revealed more about the army leadership's thinking than about the nature and scale of the buildup. The focus seemed more calculated to demonstrate Pakistan's perfidy than to ratchet down the tensions between the nuclear-armed enemies.

While officials in New Delhi declared that Pakistan had, indeed, reduced infiltration, generals who briefed journalists today said it was too early to judge whether there had been any decline.

"It will take us at least three to six months to say whether infiltration has come down," said Lt. Gen. J. B. S. Yadava, commander of the 16th Army Corps in Jammu, which has been heavily affected by the insurgency.

The military commanders also said they seriously doubted the sincerity of General Musharraf's pledge to halt infiltration of anti-India insurgents who have for years been trained, financed, sheltered and guided by Pakistan's army to fight a proxy war against the Indian rule of Kashmir, where the majority of the population is Muslim.

General Yadava said he believed that Pakistan was still planning to use the guerrillas already inside Jammu and Kashmir to battle India in the event of a war. "The international pressure has compelled them to instruct the terrorists to lie low until such time as temperatures cool," he said. "This cooling down is temporary as far as I can see."

As if to emphasize the generals' skepticism, the army took busloads of journalists up a corkscrew road to an army post and pointed out the place on a heavily forested mountainside where six militants had been spotted trying to sneak into Jammu on Sunday morning. One was killed.

The event that precipitated the current crisis shadowed everything the generals said. A month ago, three men with assault rifles stormed into the family quarters of an army cantonment on the outskirts of the town of Jammu and killed about 20 wives and children of soldiers.

Maj. Gen. Sudhir Sharma, commander here in the Palanwala sector, said the army had turned the hot anger of that moment into a "cold fury."

The general described how the attackers went methodically from apartment to apartment, hunting down terrified women and children. Then he recounted reading transcripts of intercepted wireless communications from Pakistan's side. "We can hear the wails of the Indian Army and that makes us happy!" he said, relating the contents of one such interception. "Well done! Congratulations!"

Asked how India would respond if there were another such attack, he said, "It will be a very cold, planned thing."

During today's tour, guides took journalists to villages affected by shelling from the Pakistani side of the line. At two stops, the army had recruited people from among the 50,000 who have fled their homes to tell how Pakistan's intense shelling has devastated their lives a mirror image of claims Pakistan makes on its guided tours for reporters on its side of the line.

"People prefer nuclear war to proxy war," Hari Sharma, a mathematics researcher at Jammu University, said emphatically. "Proxy war is more dangerous. Here, everybody is worried when they'll be killed. There's no assurance of life along the Line of Control. Nuclear war is more destructive, but it would be suicidal for Pakistan. If Pakistan threw a nuclear bomb on India, India would not throw flowers on Pakistan."

Local residents told of children killed by stray bullets and shrapnel, of cattle and homes abandoned for dreary camps, of a rising sense of frustration that the violence never seems to end.

Since late May, the shelling from both sides of the line has been ferocious. Indian defense officials interviewed this week in Jammu and Kashmir estimated that Indian fire had killed or wounded at least 60 members of Pakistani security forces and damaged or destroyed almost 100 Pakistani posts, bunkers, pillboxes or other structures.

Among some local residents, there seems to be a yearning for the "decisive battle" that Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee threatened when he spoke to troops in Jammu and Kashmir last month after the attack on soldiers' families.

"I favor war," said Rajendra Prasad, a farmer from the town of Jhalas who has been living for six months in makeshift accommodations in the town of Punch. "Without war, there is no peace."
Published in NewYorkTimes.