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India To Withdraw Some Troops From Borders With Pakistan - 2002-10-16

India said it will withdraw troops from its borders with Pakistan in all areas except the disputed Kashmir region. It is considered a significant step in easing the military standoff between the two nuclear-capable countries, but India said it has no immediate plans to enter into a dialogue with Pakistan.

The decision for the partial troop pullback was made by the Cabinet Committee on Security. Earlier in the day, top defense and intelligence officials recommended a phased withdrawal of tens of thousands of soldiers who have been on high alert for the past 10 months. Experts said continuing with the full scale deployment of troops may not be useful.

Defense Minister George Fernandes said soldiers will remain along the volatile line of control that divides Kashmir between the two countries. "As the armed forces have with great distinction achieved the objectives assigned to them, they now be asked to redeploy from positions on the international border with Pakistan, without impairing their capacity to respond decisively to any emergency. There will be no lowering of the vigil in Jammu and Kashmir," he said.

The military standoff began after India accused Pakistan-backed militants of mounting an attack on its parliament last December. Nearly a million troops from both countries have been on the border since then, prompting months of intensive western diplomacy to prevent the outbreak of a military conflict between the two countries.

In recent months, American and European diplomats have repeatedly urged India to scale down its huge military deployment and open talks with Pakistan to de-escalate tensions.

But analysts said India was waiting for regional elections to conclude in Indian Kashmir before making a decision on its massive troop deployment. The elections ended last week.

Analysts say the withdrawal of the troops may ease military tensions between the two countries, but it is unlikely to thaw the frosty relations between them.

Mr. Fernandes said New Delhi will not enter into a dialogue with Pakistan because it continues to support infiltration by Islamic militants into its territory despite pledges of ending such incursions. "There is no question of a dialogue with Pakistan as long as Pakistani terrorism continues," he said.

Pakistan said all infiltration from its territory into India has stopped. It has repeatedly urged an end to the military standoff and called for talks.