The State Department on Friday advised all but essential American diplomats in India to leave and urged about 60,000 Americans there to depart as well because of a rising risk of conflict between India and Pakistan.
“Tensions have risen to serious levels” and those Americans who chose to remain should steer clear of all border areas between the two countries, the State Department said.
About 60,000 U.S. citizens in India also were urged to depart. “Conditions along India’s border with Pakistan and in the state of Jammu and Kashmir have deteriorated,” the State Department said in its travel warning.
The warning cited artillery exchanges between Indian and Pakistani troops and said terrorist groups linked to the al-Qaida network and implicated in attacks on Americans have attacked and killed civilians.
It was not clear how many Americans would take the State Department’s advice.
The departures will be on commercial flights, which are plentiful, a senior U.S. official said.
Dependents of nonessential U.S. personnel in the embassy in New Delhi and U.S. consulates in Calcutta, Mumbai and Chennai also were encouraged to depart at U.S. government expense.
In Pakistan, all nonessential U.S. Embassy staff and dependents were ordered home after the March 17 bombing of a Christian church in Islamabad that killed four people, including two Americans. A travel warning that already was in effect was reissued, urging Americans to postpone trips to Pakistan, but there have been no warnings for them to leave voluntarily.
Dozens of embassy staff remain. The embassy in Islamabad is open, as are consulates in Karachi, Peshawar and Lahore, although they are heavily fortified.
India regularly warns the State Department of preparations for war with Pakistan because of the influx of Islamic extremists into the Indian side of disputed Kashmir, said a senior U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity.
While India has not indicated a timetable, the administration takes the warnings seriously.
On Thursday, President George W. Bush took a tough line toward Pakistan, a major ally in the U.S. war against the al Qaida terror network, demanding that President Pervez Musharraf “live up to his word” and crack down on Islamic extremists’ cross-border attacks in Kashmir.
While the State Department said it still had no assessment whether Musharraf was making good on his promise last winter to deny Pakistani territory to terrorists, Bush took the initiative as India and Pakistan teetered on the brink.
He also deployed top American officials in the region— Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld is due there a week from Sunday _ and said: “We are making it very clear to both Pakistan and India that war will not serve their interests.”
Locked in a dispute over the Kashmir border district, and with 1 million troops in a standoff at their frontier, India and Pakistan continued to alarm the world with their troop movements and their rhetoric, their nuclear armaments looming always in the background.
Secretary of State Colin Powell will send his deputy, Richard Armitage, to India and Pakistan for talks next Thursday and Friday, with Rumsfeld to arrive shortly afterward, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said.