India and PakistanDecember 26, 2008 # 11:38 am # Armed Conflict # No Comment
Pakistan is moving some troops away from its western border with Afghanistan, where the United States has pressed it to combat Taliban militants, and stopping many soldiers from going on leave amid rising tensions with India, senior Pakistani officials said Friday. A senior military official said in an interview that the decision to sharply restrict leave for soldiers was taken “in view of the prevailing environment,” namely the deteriorating relations with India since the Mumbai terrorist attacks last month. He added that the Pakistani air force was “vigilant” and “alert” for the same reason. A second Pakistani security official would not say where the forces were being sent, but confirmed the troop movements and the restrictions on leave, saying “there’s an obvious reason for that.”
The redeployment came as Indian authorities warned their citizens not to travel to Pakistan given the heightened tensions between the two nations, news agencies reported, particularly since Indian citizens had been arrested there in connection with a bombing in the Pakistani city of Lahore.
The senior military official said that the Pakistani troops were being drawn from northwestern Pakistan, where the military is fighting Taliban militants on several fronts. He said that “essential troops in limited numbers are being pulled out of areas where no operations are being conducted,” or where winter weather had already limited their ability to maneuver.
The senior official also refused to say where the troops would be redeployed, although the Associated Press quoted two Pakistani intelligence officials as saying that the Pakistani Army’s 14th division was being sent to Kasur and Sialkot, near the Indian border, and that around 20,000 troops were being redeployed. However, neither the scale nor ultimate destination of the troop movement could be immediately confirmed.
In India, the prime minister, Manmohan Singh, summoned the leaders of his country’s armed forces to discuss the security situation, Indian media reported on Friday.
The Times continues:
The developments added to the simmering tensions between the two nuclear-armed neighbors one month after the three-day terror assault in Mumbai left 171 people dead. Indian and American intelligence officials have blamed the Mumbai attacks on a Pakistani militant group that has long had ties to the Pakistan intelligence service. But Pakistani leaders reject that argument, saying they have been shown no evidence proving who carried out the attacks.
The troop movements away from northwestern Pakistan may also deepen concerns among American officials about Pakistan’s commitment to battling Taliban militants in the country’s lawless western frontier regions.
If the Pakistani troops are being sent toward the Indian border, the action is in sharp contrast to efforts earlier this month to cool hostilities between the two countries, which have fought three wars since 1947.
Two weeks ago, for example, Pakistani officials went out of their way to play down as “inadvertent” two incursions of Indian warplanes into Pakistani airspace. Their response to the airspace violations — which the Indian military denied — won praise from United States leaders even as Pakistani officials privately said the incursions were likely a test or provocation.
Let’s hope cooler minds prevail.