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The world begins to destabilize

As Eyes of the World Focus on Iraq, The Rest of the World's Hotspots Get Hotter  
by Ewen MacAskill, Chris McGreal in Jerusalem and Nick Paton-Walsh in Moscow
  
Indian-Pakistani relations deteriorated to a dangerous level yesterday after New Delhi blamed Islamabad for a massacre in Kashmir earlier this week. Early yesterday India test-fired a nuclear-capable missile and, a few hours later, Pakistan followed suit.

The confrontation between the neighbors, both nuclear powers, is the most serious of a number of troublespots bubbling up while the focus of Washington and Europe is fixed on the war in Iraq.

North Korea, another nuclear power, also took a series of provocative steps yesterday aimed at antagonizing Washington, including ending one of the few vehicles for contact left open with the US. It also announced a rise in defense spending.

The war in Iraq has disrupted US-Russian strategic arms reduction talks. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict hovers on the brink of a new catastrophe.

Nancy Soderberg, a member of the Clinton administration's national security council and a former US ambassador to the UN, said yesterday that there was a problem of focus with the Bush administration. "I think it is a one-crisis administration," she said.

Victor Bulmer-Thomas, director of the Royal Institute for International Affairs, speaking about the India-Pakistan confrontation and the standoff with North Korea, said yesterday: "War creates certain latitude for testing enemy responses."

India and Pakistan

The latest flashpoint came in response to the massacre of 24 Hindus in Kashmir on Sunday. An Indian foreign ministry spokesman, Navtej Sarna, blamed Pakistan. "The pattern, methodology and the nature of targets of these acts of terror are all too familiar and, therefore, the culpability of Pakistan is all too clear."

He warned that India would meet the challenge with resolve.

A western diplomat also put the blame on Pakistan for "provocation" and said: "The Indians are really, really mad about it. It is not something to which they would react militarily, but it is close to their level of tolerance."

India test-fired the missile yesterday morning at a range in eastern India. Several hours later, Pakistan tested a similar missile.

One man was killed yesterday and 14 were wounded in a heavy exchange of artillery and mortar fire between the two sides in Kashmir.

A British Foreign Office spokesman insisted the situation was being watched and that the foreign secretary, Jack Straw, had spoken to New Delhi on Monday. "Iraq is the No 1 issue but we are determined not to lose sight of other issues," he said.

North Korea

Leaders of North Korea pulled out of border liaison talks with US officers yesterday and a UN envoy said Pyongyang was continuing to work on a nuclear reprocessing plant at the heart of a standoff with Washington. North Korea's parliament also agreed a 2003 budget increasing military spending.

The US state department and the Foreign Office claim that North Korea can be dealt with diplomatically and that it is ratcheting up the tension to secure aid and other rewards from Washington. But other diplomats have refused to rule out a steady spiral that carries a risk of war.

Ms Soderberg said: "There is a real danger. You have a bizarre leadership in the North, one or two nuclear weapons at present and five or six more between now and the summer and the restart of the plutonium plant.

"They are talking about using them and there are US troops in South Korea and Japan."

Further adding to the tension, two North Korean fishing boats strayed into South Korean water on Tuesday but yesterday Seoul played down the incursion.

Israel

An Israeli army undercover squad shot dead a 10-year-old girl in Bethlehem on Tuesday night in what the military described as a "tragic accident". Such deaths have become almost routine, though Israel has not so far taken advantage of the cover of the war in Iraq to escalate its campaign against the Palestinians.

Before the invasion began, the White House made two appeals to the Israeli prime minister, Ariel Sharon - stay out of the war and do not do anything in the Palestinian territories to draw attention.

So far, Mr Sharon has respected Washington's wishes. Israeli forces have killed 85 Palestinians this month - including at least 11 children. That is the highest monthly death toll since the tanks rolled back into West Bank cities a year ago, but only marginally up on last month. Altogether, 2,204 Palestinians have been killed since the intifada began in September 2000.

Days ahead of the attack on Iraq, the Palestinians and human rights groups, Israeli and Palestinian, launched a joint emergency committee with flying squads to publicize and stop any attempts to forcibly remove Palestinians from areas the government wants for Jewish settlers.

"There is a real fear the Sharon government will take advantage of the war on Iraq in order to implement its long-term objectives," said Jeff Halper, one of the committee's leaders. "In recent weeks the situation in the occupied Palestinian territories has already deteriorated as the media's attention is focused on the situation in Iraq. There have been more curfews and destruction of Palestinian homes. But our big concern is the mass transfer of Palestinians to force them to live behind the "security wall."

Russia

The war in the Gulf has disrupted the United States-Russian strategic arms control negotiations. Russia has delayed the ratification of a seminal US-Russian arms treaty by its parliament. Russian ministers have suggested that final legislative approval be postponed because of the unilateral military action taken against Iraq.

Yesterday the Russian foreign minister, Igor Ivanov, said: "If we wait for some time, and concentrate all our efforts on ending the war and switching over to a political settlement [of the Iraq crisis], then at a more quiet moment we can quickly deal with this issue."

© Guardian Newspapers Limited 2003
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