- The Washington Times - Friday, October 18, 2002

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan Pakistan will withdraw hundreds of thousands of troops deployed along its border with India to their "peacetime locations," the government announced yesterday, matching a similar pledge by India.

The moves were the most concrete steps by the two South Asian nuclear rivals to reduce tension since they nearly went to war in May, and were sure to be welcomed by Washington, which counts both countries as allies.

"The government of Pakistan has decided to withdraw its forces from the Pakistan-India border to their peacetime locations," the Foreign Ministry said in a brief statement. "The pullback will commence shortly."

The ministry said the decision was made after a top-level meeting chaired by President Pervez Musharraf.

A senior defense official who spoke on the condition of anonymity said Pakistan would withdraw 90 percent of its troops, including naval and air forces. He said the pullback would occur in phases, depending on the progress of India's phased withdrawal.

He said the army had sent 400,000 to 500,000 troops to the border, "but now we will be withdrawing them."

"It's welcome news," said U.S. Embassy spokesman Terry White. In Washington, a State Department official had expressed hope that India's announcement would lead to further steps to reduce tension and move toward dialogue.

However, a spokesman for India's Foreign Ministry, Navtej Sarna, said yesterday that Pakistan's decision to match its withdrawal was not enough to lead to talks.

"What is needed to start a dialogue with Pakistan is a complete and visible end to cross-border terrorism, and we have seen no change in this," Mr. Sarna said. India accuses Pakistan of sponsoring attacks by Islamic militant groups, a charge Pakistan denies.

India and Pakistan have a long history of tension along their 1,800-mile border, especially in the disputed Himalayan province of Kashmir. More than 1 million troops are deployed on both sides.

Earlier this month, Pakistan and India conducted tit-for-tat tests of medium-range, nuclear-capable missiles, renewing fears of an arms race and highlighting the size of the stakes involved in their dispute.

India said Wednesday it would withdraw tens of thousands of its troops from the border with Pakistan, but none from the Line of Control, which separates the disputed region of Kashmir.

No details were immediately available on when the pullback would start.

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