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Pakistan Moves Troops Toward Indian Border, Further Raising Regional Tensions

Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani

Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani

(RFE/RL) -- Pakistan has reportedly moved thousands of troops from the Afghan border in the northwest toward the Indian frontier.

The United States has urged both sides to refrain from raising tensions “in an already tense situation."

Although Pakistani officials insist the troop redeployment is no more than a minimum defensive measure, the move is seen as a sign of rising tensions between the two nuclear-armed neighbors.

India blames Pakistani militants for the deadly attacks in Mumbai last month, which left more than 170 people dead.

Pakistan has demanded that India back its claim with proper evidence.

Pakistan Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani reiterated that his country does not want war with its neighbor but is prepared to defend itself from aggression.

'Fully Prepared'

Speaking at a ceremony to mark the anniversary of the murder of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, Gilani said friendly countries “are trying their best to persuade India so as to avoid any aggression” and “misadventure.”

Our armed forces are highly professional. They are fully prepared. But at the same time I assure you, once again, that we will not act. We will only react.
“But at the same time," he said, "our armed forces are highly professional. They are fully prepared. But at the same time I assure you, once again, that we will not act. We will only react.”

News agencies quote unnamed Pakistani intelligence officials as saying the troop movement began December 25 with soldiers being redeployed from Waziristan to the towns of Kasur and Sialkot near the Indian border.

The military reportedly plans to shift a total of 20,000 soldiers from the tribal area widely known as a hotbed for Taliban, Al-Qaeda, and other militants.

Any major shift of troops from the volatile area could harm the ongoing, U.S.-backed campaign against terrorism, analysts say.

However, a senior security official in Islamabad has played down the scale and any possible impact of the troop redeployment on the war on terror, saying a limited number of soldiers had been pulled out from “snowbound areas and areas where operations are not being conducted.”

Pakistan’s move follows regional media reports that a number of Indian nationals had been arrested this week after bombings in the Pakistani cities of Lahore and Multan.

On December 26, India advised its citizens against traveling to Pakistan.

'Already Tense Times'

The United States has urged the two neighbors to avoid the further escalation of tensions. U.S. National Security Council spokesman Gordon Johndroe said Washington hopes that “both sides will avoid taking steps that will unnecessarily raise tensions during these already tense times.”

Johndroe added that the United States would continue to be in close contact with India and Pakistan to urge closer cooperation in investigating the Mumbai attacks and in fighting terrorism generally.

The two South Asian neighbors have fought three wars since their independence from Britain in 1947. They came to the brink of another war in December 2001 after gunmen attacked the Indian parliament.

Although their relations have deteriorated after the Mumbai bloodshed, both India and Pakistan have said they want to avoid any military conflict over the terrorist attacks.

With agency reports

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