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India's Fence Sparks Little Debate

fences have to be the growth industry of the 21st century
AFP File photo
by Krishnadev Calamur
Washington (UPI) Mar 10, 2004
This summer India will complete building a 340-mile-long fence on its de facto border with Pakistan in the disputed Kashmir region.

New Delhi says the fence will prevent the infiltration of separatist militants from Pakistan who cross the border to stage attacks on civilian and military targets, but Islamabad calls the barrier a violation of the U.N. charter and says its neighbor is taking undue advantage of a cease-fire agreement between them.

"Fencing in Jammu and Kashmir should be over by this summer," Gen. N.C. Vij, the army chief, said earlier this month.

The fence will include thermal imagers, night-vision devices and sensors. It will be electrified in areas where militants tend to cross the border from Pakistan.

"It will help prevent infiltration and aid in interception," Stephen P. Cohen, a senior fellow in Foreign Policy Studies at the Brookings Institution in Washington, told United Press International. "Frankly, I'm surprised the Indians didn't build it earlier."

India has continued to work on the fence even during its recent diplomatic thaw with Pakistan, showing it believes in the adage good fences make good neighbors.

Attempting to fence the border with Pakistan is not a new exercise.

The country first began building a barrier in the 1980s in Punjab and Rajasthan provinces, which also border Pakistan. The rationale was to stop the smuggling of arms from Pakistan.

At the time, India was fighting a bloody separatist uprising in Punjab -- now quelled -- and accused Islamabad of providing weapons and training to the rebels.

New Delhi began fencing the border with Kashmir in the mid-1990s but stopped the effort because of shelling and gunfire from the Pakistani side. It resumed work in 2001 and though progress was initially slow, it accelerated following a warming of ties between the two nuclear-armed rivals.

India aims to fence its entire 1,800-mile border with Pakistan. Till the middle of last year, the effort cost $300 million. The total cost is expected to cross $2 billion, and if the barrier succeeds in reducing infiltration by militants, New Delhi is looking at similar structures along its borders with Bangladesh and Myanmar.

India and Pakistan have fought three wars since almost-simultaneous independence from Britain in 1947. They have come close to a fourth conflict on innumerable occasions. The tension is heightened by the fact that both now possess nuclear weapons.

Both countries claim Kashmir in its entirety. Predominantly Hindu India's only Muslim-majority state is divided between the two countries by a de facto border called the Line of Control.

The Pakistani government has criticized the effort and has called it a "violation of international commitments."

Pakistani Prime Minister Zafrullah Jamali has accused India of taking advantage of recent warming relations, which led to a cease-fire alone the border, to speed up work on the fence.

"The border in Jammu and Kashmir remains undemarcated," said Maj. Gen. Shaukat Sultan, Pakistan's military spokesman. "It is a working boundary and a cease-fire line."

Sultan said his country opposed any attempt by India to change the status quo and accused India of trying to turn the Line of Control, delineated in 1972, into an actual border.

"Border fencing is not allowed," he said.

India has denied it is trying to settle the Kashmir dispute through the fence.

Last August, the U.S. State Department said it had no official stand on the Indian barrier.

"We're not taking a position on the fence," State Department Spokesman Richard Boucher said.

The U.S. government has at the same time been critical of a barrier -- 95 percent fence and 5 percent wall -- the Israelis are building along the West Bank to stem terrorist attacks. Boucher was careful to note there was a difference between the two structures.

"I guess I have to reject the contention that it's just like in the Middle East," he said. "I think these are two different fences."

The State Department may have a point.

Israel's barrier crisscrosses the West Bank and eats into several parts of it. The Indian fence, however, runs inside the Indian side of the border and at places is several miles inside Indian territory.

"We didn't have objections to the Israeli fence until it went through parts of Palestinians' land and began affecting their economy," Cohen of Brookings said. "In this case, it's only going to hurt the smugglers."

US Secretary of State Colin Powell is due to visit the region next week to meet separately with Indian and Pakistani officials.

In India, he is expected to discuss the next steps in the strategic relationship between the two countries.

"We had a fairly extensive discussion of what the strategic partnership involved," State Department deputy spokesman Adam Ereli said last week. "I think what we'll be focusing here is ... further discussion of that, as well as working together to strengthen not only the global economy but to expand trade between our two countries."

The issue of the fence is unlikely to come up, partially because Pakistan may not raise it.

"This will not be an issue" during Powell's visit," Cohen said. "... I don't think that's their (Pakistan's) biggest complaint."

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Pitching For Peace In Pakistan
Islamabad (UPI) Mar 10, 2004
The Pakistan-India cricket series beginning Wednesday in Lahore promises to be a rough one, but many on the sidelines Pakistan are welcoming the games as a chance for more than an improved team score. Ideally, a friendly game of cricket can take the edge off Pakistan and India's long-standing enmity by bringing the fans of the rival countries together in their love of the game.

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