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Drawdown Reported in India

Asia: Officials say 18,000 troops were pulled from border with Pakistan. Government denies it.

July 17, 2002|From Associated Press

JAMMU, India — In what could be a significant reduction of war readiness, the Indian army has withdrawn three strike divisions--about 18,000 men--from the Pakistan frontier, high-ranking army and government officials said Tuesday.

The Defense Ministry denied the movements, however, and India's deputy prime minister made a bellicose speech to Parliament, claiming the nation's right to all of the disputed region of Kashmir.

The mixed signals were indicative of the political sensitivity of de-escalation and the tough task awaiting Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw when they visit India and Pakistan this month to nudge them toward dialogue.

The army withdrew the three divisions a week ago, before an attack Saturday by suspected Islamic militants that killed 28 people in India's northern Jammu and Kashmir state, the officials in Jammu said on condition of anonymity.

The strike divisions--units that are trained to push forward in case of war or make cross-border attacks on militants--were removed after a study confirmed that the infiltration of militants from Pakistani territory had significantly diminished, the officials said.

In New Delhi, the Defense Ministry denied the report. "There is no change in the deployment level of the Indian army, including the strike formations," it said.

The officials, who have given reliable information about such movements in the past, said the government had not planned to make its troop withdrawal public.

A strike division has about 6,000 soldiers, meaning that the withdrawal reported by the officers and officials could involve about 18,000 battle-ready troops.

In Islamabad, the Pakistani capital, government spokesman Maj. Gen. Rashid Qureshi said he had no confirmation of the Indian withdrawal and therefore could make no comment.

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