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India holds wargames near Pakistan border

Anti-election strike shuts down parts of Indian Kashmir
A strike called by Muslim separatists to shore up their boycott of national elections shut down parts of Indian Kashmir on the eve of Thursday's vote in the volatile Kashmir valley. Separatist groups argue that the polls serve to legitimise Indian rule of the disputed territory, which is held in part by India and Pakistan but claimed in full by both. "This is the only way to lodge our peaceful protest against the holding of elections in Kashmir," hardline separatist leader Syed Ali Geelani told AFP by phone. The two-day strike, which closed shops, schools and offices in the Kashmiri summer capital Srinagar, began Tuesday evening and will last until polling stations close late Thursday afternoon. Geelani and other prominent separatists have been placed under house arrest to prevent, the police say, any attempt to incite anti-election violence. Srinagar and the surrounding valley are the cradle of the separatist movement that has dominated life in Muslim-majority Kashmir for the past two decades. Residents in downtown Srinagar said police and paramilitary forces had imposed "strict restrictions" on their movement. "It is a curfew-like situation. We are not being allowed to move out of our homes," said Altaf Ahmed, 24. The clampdown came after 10 people were hurt overnight in anti-election protests in Srinagar.
by Staff Writers
New Delhi (AFP) May 5, 2009
The Indian military said Tuesday it has held large-scale military exercises involving its main strike corps close to the tense border with nuclear-armed rival Pakistan.

The three-day manoeuvres, code-named Hind Shakti ('Indian Power'), were held in the arid plains of northern Punjab state and wrapped up on Tuesday, officials said.

"The exercise entailed participation by mechanised and infantry divisions in a blitzkrieg type armoured incursion," emphasising "rapid penetration into enemy territory," the defence ministry said in a statement.

Officials said the exercises involved the elite Kharga Corps and that similar war games by India's two remaining strike units were also being planned.

"The manoeuvres will factor in various scenarios, including the worsening situation in our neighbourhood," a Kharga Corps commander told AFP.

The exercises come amid increasing concern in New Delhi over the stand-off between the Taliban and the Pakistani military. Last month the Indian government said the crisis across the border was a threat to the entire region.

Indian officials also say they have detected an increase in attempted incursions into the Indian part of disputed Kashmir by Islamic militants.

India accuses the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba militant group of carrying out the 60-hour siege of Mumbai last November that left 166 people dead and over 300 injured.

India and Pakistan have fought two of their three wars over Kashmir since independence from Britain in 1947.

earlier related report
US urges India, Israel, Pakistan, NKorea to join NPT
A top US arms control negotiator at the United Nations on Tuesday urged presumed atomic powers India, Israel, Pakistan and North Korea to join the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

"Universal adherence to the NPT itself, including by India, Israel, Pakistan and North Korea ... remains a fundamental objective of the United States," said Assistant Secretary of State Rose Gottemoeller.

She later praised "India's willingness to proceed with a fissile material cutoff treaty, in cooperation with the United States, and willingness also to pursue the comprehensive test ban treaty, as well as other lesser but important measures, such as improving its export controls."

"India is coming closer to the non-proliferation regime and that too is an important goal of US policy," Gottemoeller added.

The envoy was at the United Nations for a preparatory session for an NPT conference scheduled for May 2010 in New York.

The last such conference, which gathers NPT signatory states and seeks to rescue the treaty from charges it has become obsolete, ended in disarray in May 2005 with no agreement from the participating countries.

The conferences have been held every five years since the NPT was ratified in 1970. There are currently 189 signatory countries to the treaty.

Israel, which has never publicly acknowledged having a nuclear program, is not a member. Pakistan and India likewise have failed to sign the treaty, while North Korea had been a member, but pulled out in 2003.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon expressed hope Monday that the week-long preparatory session would produce agreements on key procedural matters and issue concrete recommendations for the conference next year.

earlier related report
Pakistan's nuclear security still cause for concern: US
The security of Pakistan's nuclear arsenal is still cause for concern in Washington despite reassurances that the weapons are out of reach of Taliban militants, the US national security adviser has said.

General James Jones said in an interview with the BBC that he had been told by Pakistan's army that the country's nuclear stockpile was safe, but that Washington needed further guarantees.

"We have received many assurances from the military that this is something they have under control but this is very much an ongoing topic," he said.

"The world would like to know that on this question, that there's absolute security and transparency."

Jones' comments came as the Pakistani army continued to battle Taliban militants who have occupied areas of the northwestern Malakand region, the fringes of which are only 100 kilometres (60 miles) from Islamabad.

Islamabad's western allies expressed serious concerns when the militants began patrolling the streets of Buner district -- around two hours' drive from the capital -- to enforce their strict brand of Islamic sharia law.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton labelled the Taliban advances an "existential threat" to Pakistan.

The move came after Islamabad signed an agreement effectively ceding control of the Swat valley, part of Malakand and a former tourist spot popular with foreigners, to the Taliban in a bid to end a brutal two-year insurgency.

Speaking in Washington, where Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari is due to meet US President Barack Obama this week, Jones said "things are moving in a more positive direction" in Pakistan, but said more guarantees were needed.

"If Pakistan doesn't continue in the direction that it presently is and we're not successful there then, obviously, the nuclear question comes into view," he said.

The notion that the country's nuclear weapons could fall into Taliban hands was "the very, very worst case scenario," said Jones.

"We're going to do anything we can within the construct of our bilateral relations and multilateral relations to make sure that doesn't happen."

Obama will raise concerns about nuclear proliferation and resurgent extremism in talks this week with Zardari and Afghan President Hamid Karzai, the White House said Monday.

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Top senators unveil Pakistan aid overhaul
Washington (AFP) May 4, 2009
Two top US senators unveiled plans Monday to expand and overhaul civilian US aid to Pakistan, calling it an urgent step to help defeat Islamists who threaten the nuclear-armed ally's stability.

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