Tensions Rising Between Pakistan and India (Updated)
The news from Pakistan and India isn’t exactly the sort to promote Christmas cheer. The tensions between the two countries, on hair trigger since the attacks in Mumbai last month with Indian officials blaming the attacks on Pakistan and Pakistani officials denying it vehemently, have ratcheted up another notch:
Pakistani officials say the Pakistani army is moving troops toward India amid tensions with New Delhi over last month’s terrorist attacks in Mumbai.
Witnesses say hundreds of troops are moving eastward from Pakistan’s northwestern border with Afghanistan, where soldiers have been fighting al-Qaida and Taliban militants.
The army has not officially confirmed the redeployment. But defense officials say the military has canceled leave for members of the armed forces, and put both the army and air force on high alert.
Over the period of the last 60 years hundreds of thousands, possibly millions, have died in three wars between the two countries. The most recent of those wars in 1971 was the most severe. Since then both countries have developed nuclear weapons.
The Associated Press is reporting substantially larger movement of Pakistani troops along the border with India:
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Pakistan began moving thousands of troops to the Indian border Friday, intelligence officials said, sharply raising tensions triggered by the Mumbai terror attacks.
India has blamed Pakistani-based militants for last month’s siege on its financial capital, which killed 164 people and has provoked an increasingly bitter war of words between nuclear-armed neighbors that have fought three wars in 60 years.
The troops headed to the Indian border were being diverted away from tribal areas near Afghanistan, officials said, and the move was expected to frustrate the United States, which has been pushing Pakistan to step up its fight against al-Qaida and Taliban militants near the Afghan border.
Two intelligence officials said the army’s 14th Division was being redeployed to the towns of Kasur and Sialkot, close to the Indian border. They said some 20,000 troops were on the move. Earlier Friday, a security official said all troop leave had been canceled.
The Guardian notes that the troops moving towards the Indian border are being redeployed from the Afghan border:
Pakistan moved troops away from its western border with Afghanistan, amid reports that thousands of soldiers were being redeployed along the eastern frontier with India yesterday, in what would be a major escalation of the confrontation between the two countries after the Mumbai terrorist attack last month.
Most experts still believe that war between the nuclear-armed adversaries is unlikely but, if confirmed, the troop movements risk triggering a conflict, with both sides in a state of nervous high alert.
A Pakistani defence official said: “Troops in snowbound areas and places where operational commitments were less [in the west], have been pulled back.”
The official denied that the soldiers had been sent to the Indian border. However, media reports quoted witnesses who had seen long convoys of trucks carrying troops, passing through towns.
Pakistan has cancelled leave for all its soldiers, while India has told its citizens not to travel to Pakistan. “We are at the cusp of war,” said Zafar Hilaly, a retired Pakistani ambassador turned analyst. “I really do think there is a chance. We shouldn’t, by any means, rule out some kind of hostile action on the part of India.”
Pakistan’s actions present a certain danger to the United States directly. Irregulars in the Federally Administered Territories could conceivably seize the weakened condition of the Afghan-Pakistan border as an opportunity to escalate their actions there. That would invite reprisals back along the border from the United States forces in Afghanistan. Being drawn into a war between Pakistan and India would present substantial hazards for us as would a weakened government in Islamabad.