Sun, Dec 28, 2008 - Page 1 News List

US watches Pakistan troop movements with concern

AP , WASHINGTON AND ISLAMABAD

Pakistan told India yesterday it did not want war and would use force only if attacked — a move apparently aimed at reducing tensions amid reports indicating thousands of Pakistani troops were headed for their shared border.

“We don’t want to fight, we don’t want to have war, we don’t want to have aggression with our neighbors,” Pakistani Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani said in a televised speech.

Still, Gilani said the country’s military was “fully prepared” to respond to any Indian aggression.

Pakistan’s latest moves were seen as an indication that it will retaliate if India launches air or missile strikes against militant targets on Pakistani soil — rather than a signal that a fourth war between the two countries was imminent.

US officials watched with growing concern on Friday as reports suggested Pakistan was massing troops to the India border. Such a move raises double-barreled worries: A possible confrontation between two nuclear powers and a shift by the Pakistani military away from battling the Taliban along its western Afghan edge.

“We hope that both sides will avoid taking steps that will unnecessarily raise tensions during these already tense times,” White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe said.

US military leaders have been urging both India and Pakistan to exercise restraint in the wake of the deadly Mumbai attacks that many believe were originated by Pakistan-based militants.

On Friday, US intelligence and military officials were still trying to determine if the reported troop movements were true, and, if so, what Pakistan’s intent may be. They cautioned that the reports may be exaggerated, aimed more at delivering a message than dispatching forces.

Officials spoke on condition of anonymity as they were not authorized to discuss intelligence matters.

US defense leaders have been worried about a new flare-up between Pakistan and India ever since the coordinated terror attacks in India’s financial capital last month that killed 164 people.

India has demanded that Pakistan arrest the perpetrators behind the Mumbai attacks. It says they are members of Lashkar-e-Taiba, a militant group widely believed to have been created by Pakistani intelligence in the 1980s and used to fight Indian-rule in the disputed Kashmir region.

Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, was in Pakistan twice this month and as many as seven times in the past year. In recent meetings with senior Pakistani leaders he has urged restraint and encouraged both sides to find ways to work together.

One senior military official said on Friday that the US is monitoring the issue, but still could not confirm assertions from Pakistani intelligence officials that some 20,000 troops were on the move, heading to the Indian border.

A key concern for US officials is that some of those troops may have been stationed along the volatile Afghan border and were being diverted to the Indian side.

US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Mullen, who have both been in the region in recent weeks, have expressed the hope that Pakistan would stay focused on fighting militants in its mountainous northwestern Federally Administered Tribal Areas.

Insurgents there have proved increasingly troublesome, launching attacks into Afghanistan, disrupting supply routes for the Afghan, US and coalition militaries, and providing training and hiding places for the Taliban, al-Qaeda and others. It also has long been suspected that al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden has been hiding there.

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