- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 17, 2002

PESHAWAR, Pakistan Pakistan has quietly shifted more than one-third of its troops from the western border with Afghanistan to the disputed Line of Control in Kashmir, sharply reducing its ability to capture Taliban and al Qaeda troops fleeing Afghanistan.
Multiple convoys of troops have been observed moving north and east from military bases in Peshawar and Quetta near the Afghan border, where they had been stationed to prevent fleeing al Qaeda and Taliban fighters from entering Pakistan.
A midranking U.S. Army officer based in Islamabad said, "These are not normal troop movements. If I were an intelligence officer, I would be counting troops and taking notes."
Depending on the destination, it can take a convoy from eight to 12 hours to complete its journey from bases near Peshawar. Usually convoys depart at night and follow the Grand Trunk Road from Peshawar to Islamabad before heading north.
Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf has said that tensions with India could theoretically force his military to divert resources being used to seal the border with Afghanistan from al Qaeda and Taliban fugitives, but until recently there has been no practical reason to withdraw troops in large numbers.
Senior Pakistani military officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, confirmed that the Afghan border will be stripped of Pakistani troops in case of war with India.
The first Pakistani troops to leave the Afghan border were armor and artillery groups. They would not have been necessarily equipped to catch fleeing terrorists, but would have helped to keep the border more secure.
The Associated Press last week quoted U.S. officials as saying 35,000 troops had been redeployed from the Afghan border to Kashmir since Dec. 13, when a suicide attack on India's Parliament sparked an Indian military buildup. That would leave 65,000 of an original 100,000 troops to secure the border.
A State Department official in Washington said yesterday the department was "not aware of troops being redeployed" from the Afghan border. "Pakistan significantly added to its [Afghan] border force with regular troops, and they are still there," the official said.
But Pakistani officials acknowledged the rate of redeployment has increased in recent days and has consisted almost entirely of infantry personnel.
While Maj. Gen. Rashid Qureshi, a Pakistani military spokesman, would not comment on the exact numbers, he conceded that tens of thousands of troops have moved to Kashmir. Another high-ranking military source indicated that the actual number sent to Kashmir could be as high as 85,000, leaving only 15,000 troops still at the border with Afghanistan.
When asked about the transfers, a commander of the Pakistani army in Peshawar said, "While we have no comment officially regarding the numbers of troops moved, if you have seen heavy troop movements, I will not contradict you."
If the Pakistani troop withdrawals were permanent, it could spell disaster for American attempts to seal the border with Afghanistan.
Pakistan has moved its strike formations up to the northern border in Jammu. Supported by armored formations, about six divisions, or more than 120,000 Pakistani troops, are believed to have fortified their positions in anticipation of an Indian attack.
The Pakistani troops remaining at the western border now have an increasingly difficult job to interdict suspected al Qaeda and Taliban members fleeing Afghanistan. It requires immense resources to close off the mountainous frontier resources that Pakistan desperately needs to confront an Indian army more than twice its size.
The U.S.-led military crackdown in Afghanistan increasingly focuses on border regions, where American Special Forces, with local militias, continue to seek out Taliban and al Qaeda stragglers.
Relations between India and Pakistan have plummeted to their lowest level in decades following the Dec. 13 attack on the Indian Parliament, in which 14 persons, including the five attackers, were killed.
New Delhi has blamed the attack on Pakistan-based Kashmiri militant groups supported by Pakistan.

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