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Pakistan Pledges to Pull Back Forces Along Indian Border - 2002-10-17

Pakistan says it will withdraw its forces from its border with rival India. The announcement comes a day after India made a similar pledge. The moves are seen as the most concrete steps by India and Pakistan to ease tensions.

A Foreign Ministry statement says Pakistan will shortly pull its military forces back from the border to their peacetime locations. It says the decision was made at a high-level meeting led by President Pervez Musharraf.

On Wednesday, India announced a partial withdrawal of soldiers from the border, but said the decision does not apply to the disputed Line of Control between the Indian and Pakistani portions of Kashmir.

The two South Asian nations have been locked in a dangerous standoff for months, with a total of nearly one-million troops deployed on the border. Intensive diplomatic efforts led by the United States earlier this year prevented what appeared to be an almost certain clash between the two nuclear-armed neighbors.

Leaders in India have ruled out an early resumption of dialogue with Pakistan to settle the long-running dispute over Kashmir and improve bilateral relations.

Rashid Rehman, editor of a leading English newspaper, The Frontier Post, says the withdrawal of troops will reduce the tensions and may lead to a resumption of talks between India and Pakistan. "It is definitely a de-escalatory step. I think the chances of a dialogue have improved, which is a welcome development," he said. "I personally think, whatever the statements that are emanating from New Delhi right now, we should wait. When the political dust settles in Islamabad, I think diplomatic channels will be activated; I think there will exchanges."

India maintains that Pakistan sends Muslim militants across the Kashmir border to fuel a separatist insurgency. New Delhi says it will not start talking with Pakistan unless the cross-border infiltration is stopped.

The current tensions were triggered by a terrorist attack on the Indian Parliament in December. New Delhi blamed Pakistan-backed Islamic militants for the violence. Pakistan denies the charges.