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Rumblings From New Delhi

India and Pakistan are close to the situation that existed before their 1965 war, India's army commander in Kashmir said Wednesday, warning that if pushed to the edge, New Delhi could choose military action against Pakistan's army and Islamic guerrillas.

In the most aggressive war signal in years by a military commander, Lt. Gen. R.K. Nanavatty, head of the Indian army's Northern Command, said India must remain prepared for military action, and that the capture of Pakistan-controlled Kashmir was "achievable."

"The nuclearization of the subcontinent might have altered the situation, but despite that, the space exists for a limited conventional operation," Nanavatty said, referring the Indian and Pakistani nuclear arsenals developed after 1998 tests. "We must remain prepared to exercise the military option as well."

The military had refrained from such references to war even during the 1999 frontier fighting between Pakistan and India that killed more than 400 Indian soldiers.

Tensions between the two countries have increased sharply since an Oct. 1 car bombing at the Kashmir state legislature killed 40 people. A group that operates openly in Pakistan claimed responsibility, then denied it weeks later.

Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee had written to President Bush after the bombing, saying Pakistan needed to understand that India's patience is limited.

If a militant group were to launch another big attack while Vajpayee and Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf are attending the U.N. General Assembly meeting next month, senior Western diplomats say they are concerned that India's government would be pressured to take strong action against guerrilla camps in Pakistan-controlled territory.

"In August 1965, the situation was not entirely dissimilar to what it is today when we undertook a limited, conventional war in the Haji Peer area," Nanavatty said. The Indian assault on the 9,000-foot Haji Peer Pass was the first major campaign by Indian troops in the 1965 war.

Nanavatty, who commands the more than half a million soldiers in Jammu-Kashmir, was speaking at a seminar in the state's winter capital of Jammu. His troops guard the international border in southern Kashmir; a cease-fire line called the Line of Control, established after the 1971 war; and the 20,000-foot Siachen Glacier, the world's highest battlefield.

There was no official comment from the Pakistani government on the general's remarks.

A Defense Ministry spokesman said the general's assessment of the situation was "theoretically correct."

"On the ground we are maintaining strict vigil and restraint. In case any action beyond this is required, it will need the will of the nation and a decision by much higher authorities," P.K. Bandopadhyay, the Defense Ministry spokesman, told The Associated Press.

Vajpayee has indicated that the army is set to take tough action to end the 12-year insurgency by Islamic guerrillas in Jammu-Kashmir - a violent ampaign that has claimed tens of thousands of lives. The militants want independence, or merger with Pakistan, for the only mostly Muslim region in Hindu majority India.

The two countries have fought two wars over their rival claims to the territory, and a third over Bangladesh's independence from Pakistan.

New Delhi says thousands of Islamic guerrillas are armed, trained and funded by Pakistan. Pakistan says its support for the guerrillas, whom it calls "freedom fighters," is only ideological.

Nanavatty said India stood for peace, but it would take drastic action if Pakistan did not end its backing for the militants, who strike at military targets, and explode bombs in civilian areas.

Two-thirds of Kashmir is with India and the rest is controlled by Pakistan, but both sides claim it in its entirety.

Violence continued in Kashmir on Tuesday.

Six people - four members of the security forces, one militant and a civilian - were killed after rebels took refuge in a house in the state's Khirem Bijbehara village, 50 kilometers (30 miles) south of Srinagar, the summer capital. The rebels started firing when surrounded and challenged by the soldiers, an army spokesman said. The soldiers fired rockets toward the houses, which were burned.

By Binoo Joshi © MMI The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed