- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 17, 2002

From combined dispatches
NEW DELHI India will remove troops from its border with Pakistan except in disputed Kashmir province, the Indian government said yesterday, in an apparent bid to ease tensions between the nuclear rivals.
Defense Minister George Fernandes did not say how many troops would be involved and ruled out resumption of talks with Pakistan until it deals with accusations that it sponsors terrorist attacks in Indian territory.
"The army will decide when to move the troops, where to and how soon the redeployment will take place," Mr. Fernandes said after a meeting of the Cabinet's committee on security.
The announcement follows the return of Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee from a trip last week during which he was pressed by leaders of the European Union to move toward a dialogue with Pakistan.
Pakistan called the announcement of the withdrawal a "positive move" but said it also should include the Jammu-Kashmir cease-fire line.
"They are the ones who created tension by deploying troops on our border," said Pakistani Information Minister Nisar Memon.
The two nations have fought two wars over divided Kashmir, controlled in large part by India, whose rule is challenged by Pakistan. The situation nearly sparked another war in May after an attack on the Indian Parliament late last year. New Delhi blamed Islamic groups based in Pakistan and its spy agency. Islamabad denied the accusations.
The rivals have amassed about 1 million troops along their border and sporadically exchange shelling and gunfire. Almost all the Jammu-Kashmir frontier is a tense cease-fire line called the Line of Control.
Indian officials said that while the withdrawal would affect all of the 1,800-mile international border, it would not involve the Line of Control.
"There will be no lowering of vigil in Jammu and Kashmir," Mr. Fernandes said. "The fight against cross-border terrorism will continue."
Despite EU pressure, Mr. Fernandes said that India would not renew dialogue with Pakistan.
"There is no question of a dialogue with Pakistan as long as Pakistani terrorism continues," he said.
India accuses Pakistan of arming, funding and training Islamic militants who cross the frontier to stage attacks in India's portion of Kashmir. Pakistan denies that it supports the militants materially, but the United States has said that the rebels are continuing to cross the Line of Control.
Jammu and Kashmir is the only Muslim-majority state in predominantly Hindu India. Rebels having been fighting for nearly 13 years for Kashmir's independence or merger with Muslim Pakistan. The conflict has taken more than 30,000 lives.
Indian Deputy Prime Minister Lal Krishna Advani has said that Pakistan's election last week had strengthened the hands of the army and extremist groups there, "so our worries about cross-border terrorism have deepened."
Pakistan was taken by surprise by the resurgence of the religious right in the election, and its potential effect on foreign policy issues, including Kashmir and the U.S. war on terror, is not clear.
An election last week in the Indian-administered part of Kashmir led to the routing of the ruling National Conference. Analysts say that opens the door for moves to bring peace to the contested region.
India hopes a new government in Kashmir will erode support for revolt against its rule by engaging many Kashmiris who have felt marginalized.
Pakistan said the Kashmir election was a farce.

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