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India wary but calm in face of crisis in Pakistan
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NEW DELHI - No country should have more to fear from Pakistan's slide toward instability than India.

In the six decades since an independent India and Pakistan rose from the flames of the bloody partition of the subcontinent, the South Asian rivals have stared at each other across heavily armed frontiers with implacable hostility, fought three wars and engaged in tit-for-tat atomic tests.

Saber-rattling brought the two countries to the brink of nuclear war in 2001 after an attack on the Indian parliament that New Delhi blamed on Pakistan-backed militants.

Yet as Pakistan has stumbled in recent months from a military dictatorship to a state of emergency, to uncertainty in the wake of the assassination of Pakistani opposition leader Benazir Bhutto, India's reactions have been tempered — even calm.

India put its troops on a higher state of alert after the emergency was declared and again after the Bhutto killing, officially blamed on Islamic militant groups. But it refrained from mass mobilization.

India's stock market dipped slightly the morning after the killing with investors concerned about instability in the region. By the afternoon, it had resumed its climb. News reports focused equally on the Indian cricket team's poor performance against Australia.

It's not that India is no longer worried about Pakistan — it is, deeply. But a decade of sustained economic growth — pegged at about 9 percent this year — has transformed India into a global economic player, giving it self-assurance and the cash to spend heavily on its military.

"The general confidence level in India today is much higher," said C. Uday Bhaskar, a prominent New Delhi-based defense analyst.

India has been content to let the United States spearhead efforts to secure Pakistan's nuclear arsenal — a development made possible by New Delhi's increasingly close ties with Washington after decades of Cold War hostility.

A continuing peace process between India and Pakistan since 2004 also done much to reduce India's anxiety over the possibility of a Pakistani attack.

"India is concerned and monitoring the situation in Pakistan," Bhaskar said. "But India is less worried about a Pakistani attack, that, in my assessment, is not a high probability."

For decades India has fought Islamic separatists in Kashmir, the Muslim-majority divided Himalayan region that both countries claim as their own and that is at the heart of the enmity between them. India and Pakistan have fought two of their three wars over Kashmir, where about a dozen groups, which New Delhi claims are supported by Islamabad, are fighting for independence for the region or to unite it with largely Muslim Pakistan.

In the last two years, India has been hit by a series of bomb attacks, including the July 2006 Mumbai train blasts that killed more than 200 people, attacks India blames on Pakistani-backed militants.

Even then, India's response was measured: The government suspended peace talks for several months, but there was no escalation or threats.

Still, India fears that the Kashmiri militants may be joined by al-Qaida or the Taliban, who are growing in power and influence in Pakistan.

"Our greatest fear is the large scale movement of terrorist activities from Afghanistan, through Pakistan, and into India," said retired Gen. Ashok Mehta, a strategic analyst in New Delhi.

In an attempt to strengthen democracy and stability in Afghanistan, India has donated some $750 million to reconstruction efforts since the Taliban fell, according to the Indian Ministry of External Affairs, making it the third-largest donor after the U.S. and Britain.

More than 3,000 Indians are in Afghanistan building roads and dams, and setting up hospitals and the country's new Parliament building.

India's efforts have made it a close ally of the post-Taliban government, though its gains are dependent on the ability of U.S., NATO and other forces to maintain stability and prevent a Taliban resurgence.

"Since we are unable to influence the military events in Afghanistan, we are using our soft power," Mehta said.

Perhaps India's greatest problem is that while its relations with Pakistan have improved, it may not know whom to deal with there in the future as the situation deteriorates.

"India has dealt with strong military dictators and vacillating civilian leaders in Pakistan," C. Raja Mohan, a leading Indian strategic analyst, wrote in the Indian Express newspaper. "It has never faced a rudderless Pakistan."

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