Tensions rise as Pakistan moves troops
China and Russia join calls to avoid brinksmanship.
NEW DELHI; and TAKHTEBHAI, PAKISTAN
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Both governments have spoken of their desire to avert war, yet both are constrained by strong public prejudice against the other. Neither wants to appear to capitulate, given that both face significant internal challenges. India's government is facing elections next year, and Pakistan's civilian regime must be mindful of its country's powerful Army.
Reports of provocative actions by both sides – with local residents confirming the redeployment of Pakistani troops from the Afghan border – have forced the international community to step up efforts to break the deadlock. Influential new players such as Russia and China are becoming involved.
The best option is to calm the situation and force the two nations to talk, says Ahmed Rashid, a political analyst in Lahore. "This is a significant thing," he says, noting that Russia and China have broad influence in India and Pakistan, respectively.
Since the Nov. 26 terrorist attacks in Mumbai, which India blames on terrorist groups operating in Pakistan, both countries have alternated threats with conciliatory remarks. The pattern is intensifying.
Pakistani Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani said Saturday that "Pakistan will not indulge in any misadventure," insisting Pakistan will not strike first against India.
Yet a day earlier, local and international media outlets reported that the Pakistani Army had postponed all leave for soldiers to maintain a peak state of readiness. It had also redeployed soldiers from the Afghan front, where they are fighting militants, to the Indian front, the reports said.
Locals confirmed that Pakistani soldiers were given a send-off party this weekend here in this town along the Afghan frontier. A group of policemen on duty said they had seen an unusually large Army convoy pass through Takht-e-Bhai, which is at the crossroads of the tribal areas and the Swat Valley, both places where the Pakistani Army is battling militants. The Army stopped for tea and sweets and was given a warm reception, they said.
Naimatullah Khan, who works as a bodyguard in Mardan, a nearby town, says the convoy arrived from the north. "It seems they have left their places in Swat," he said.
The redeployment has been characterized as minor, with Pakistani officials calling it a "minimum defense measure." Yet it is precisely what the United States wished to avoid. With many Afghan militants maintaining command-and-control hubs in Pakistan's tribal areas, a few dozen miles from here, the US wants Pakistan to focus its military might on its Afghan border, not India.