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Pakistan focuses troops on India

As tensions rise, thousands are shifted from the Afghan border in a possible blow to anti-insurgent efforts.

KARACHI, Pakistan - Ratcheting up tensions heightened by last month's extremist attack in Mumbai, Pakistan yesterday redeployed thousands of troops toward its border with India and canceled soldiers' furloughs, according to security and intelligence officials here.

The Pakistani moves reflected increasing wariness on the part of the nuclear-armed rivals after the rampage through India's commercial hub. Indian authorities have blamed Pakistan-based extremists for last month's orchestrated attacks, in which more than 160 people were killed.

In the intervening weeks, India and Pakistan, which have fought three wars in 60 years, have veered between conciliatory gestures and stridently nationalistic statements. Both governments insist they do not want armed conflict but have said they will defend their interests.

Pakistan's shifting of troops toward the Indian border and away from the Afghan frontier probably will come as a blow to the Bush administration, which has praised Pakistan's military offensive against insurgents long based in its largely lawless tribal areas. The zone abutting the Afghan frontier is a stronghold for Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters.

Senior diplomats, including U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, traveled to the region shortly after the Mumbai attacks, urging Pakistan to cooperate fully in India's investigation and crack down on extremist groups implicated by Indian officials in the attacks.

Yesterday, the Bush administration reiterated calls for calm.

"We hope that both sides will avoid taking steps that will unnecessarily raise tensions during these already tense times," said Gordon Johndroe, a spokesman for the National Security Council, according to news agency reports. "We continue to be in close contact with both countries to urge closer cooperation in investigating the Mumbai attacks and in fighting terrorism generally."

Pakistan's government has taken some steps against the accused groups - the banned organization Lashkar-e-Taiba and its affiliated charity, Jamaat ud-Dawa - including arrests and raids on their facilities. But it says India has lagged in providing evidence about the attackers.

U.S. military officials in Afghanistan had no immediate comment on the Pakistani troop movements, but senior American commanders in Afghanistan have consistently said that a major Pakistani offensive in the tribal areas near the Afghan border, launched in August, has helped dampen insurgents' ability to strike at Western troops inside Afghanistan.

Scope unclear

A Pakistani Taliban spokesman, Maulvi Omar, welcomed news of the redeployment. Speaking from an undisclosed location, he said Taliban fighters would not launch attacks against Pakistani troops in the tribal areas as long as they were on alert against India.

The scope and repercussions of the Pakistani troop redeployment were not clear. Pakistani news reports, citing security officials, said movements involved thousands of soldiers from the army's 14th Division to two garrisons that lie close to the Indian frontier.

Local witnesses said columns of Pakistani troops with heavy weapons had been seen leaving positions in the tribal areas of Bajaur and South Waziristan yesterday.

The cancellation of furloughs was disclosed by Pakistani military officials earlier in the day. Officials speaking on condition of anonymity said some troops on leave had been recalled.

The Pakistani moves were generally interpreted by Pakistani analysts as a warning to India rather than an actively aggressive posture. Some observers said they expected little immediate effect on the offensive in the tribal areas.

Retired Brig. Gen. Mehmood Shah, now an analyst, said a "thinning out" of troops in the tribal areas would not diminish significantly the army's ability to confront militants near the Afghan border.

But yesterday's developments illustrated the heavy domestic pressures on the Indian and Pakistani governments. Although a peace process has been in place for five years, neither leadership can afford to be seen as weak in dealing with what many ordinary citizens on both sides of the frontier see as a dangerous enemy.

Pakistani Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani, in office less than a year, declared that Pakistan would not strike first at India.

'No aggression'

"We will not take any action on our own," he said in a visit to Lahore, the closest major Pakistani city to India. "There will be no aggression from our side."

In India, Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee urged Pakistan to look inward before making accusations of Indian belligerence. "They should concentrate on the real issue - how to fight against and bring to [justice] the perpetrators," the Associated Press quoted him as saying.

The Pakistani redeployment comes amid media speculation that India might conduct missile strikes against camps and other locations associated with Lashkar-e-Taiba.

11 Taliban Killed In Kandahar Raid

The U.S. coalition

said yesterday that its forces killed 11 Taliban militants, including the leader of a bombmaking cell, during an operation in southern Afghanistan.

The raid in Kandahar

province Thursday targeted a bombmaker responsible for roadside bomb attacks that killed NATO soldiers, the coalition said.

Militants barricaded

themselves inside a home during the raid and opened fire on the coalition forces. After giving time to allow women and children to leave, coalition forces fired on the militants with guns and grenades, it said. One woman who remained in the building was wounded in the leg.

Coalition forces

found dozens of land mines, grenades, AK-47s and bombmaking materials in the home.

In other violence


a Canadian soldier was killed and three were wounded by a roadside bomb in Kandahar city, the Canadian military said yesterday.

- Associated Press