India may agree to pull back troops to peacetime positions

The Indian government is likely to pull back troops from wartime positions, deployed at the working boundary with Pakistan after the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks.

Troop withdrawal to peacetime positions is among the first substantial overtures since India and Pakistan resumed peace talks following the terror strike in 2008 that had almost triggered a full-scale war.

Military and diplomatic officials told The Express Tribune on Sunday that the two nuclear-armed nations had reached an understanding on this during last month’s visit to New Delhi by President Asif Ali Zardari.

A formal announcement in this regard, they added, was likely when the Indian premier visits Islamabad possibly during the later half of this year. “It is going to happen in September or October,” one of them remarked.

Political figures privy to the president’s daylong visit to India on April 8 said the major development was a result of backdoor channels, which had been active between the two countries for the past couple of years.

Officials said that in July 2008, the Indian government had immediately mobilized troops to take wartime positions at the working boundary with Pakistan immediately after terrorists launched commando-style attacks in the heart of Indian commercial capital of Mumbai. The term working boundary relates to disputed border particularly
in Kashmir.

New Delhi blamed the attacks on Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT), a group based in Pakistan. More than 160 people, including foreigners, were killed in the strikes at multiple locations across the port city.

According to experts, in wartime scenario, regular army starts manning border instead of special-forces meant for protecting boundaries. India has Border Security Forces and Pakistan has rangers for this purpose.

Officials said Pakistan responded to Indian move in 2008 by sending troops to concentration areas-forward basis-along with the working boundary at Sialkot and some other locations.

A senior military official said that though troops were mobilised by India, there wasn’t any serious tension at the border like in 2002 after an attack on Indian parliament also blamed on a group based in Pakistan.

“There has never been an alert. Neither on our side nor on the other,” said the military official.

Defence experts argue the move will provide Pakistan a space to deploy more troops in the north of the country where the military is busy fighting al Qaeda and homegrown Taliban.

The United States and other western nations fighting an insurgency in Afghanistan want Pakistan to curb terrorists on its soil.

Siachen, Sir Creek disputes

Besides pulling back troops, Manmohan Singh visit might carry other ‘pleasant’ surprises for Pakistan and India.

Officials said ‘major announcements’ were also expected on Siachen-the disputed glacier in the Himalayas known as world’s highest battlefield-and Sir Creek – an un-demarcated stretch of coastline dotted with small islands.

They said there was a possibly that both sides might agree on troop withdrawal from the killing mountainous range where an avalanche buried more that 130 soldiers and civilians last month.

Pakistani civilian and military leaders including Chief of the Army Staff General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani have more than once said both countries should withdraw troops from the border to divert resources to public welfare.

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