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US Welcomes India-Pakistan Troop Pullback - 2002-10-18

The decision by India and Pakistan to withdraw troops deployed along their tense borders is being welcomed by the United States, which is also urging more confidence building measures between the two countries.

The U.S. Ambassador to India, Robert Blackwill, calls the troop pullback a major step in easing tensions in the volatile South Asian region. He spoke to reporters after a meeting with India's National Security Adviser, Brajesh Mishra.

"We think this is a major deescalatory step," ambassador Blackwill said. " We are gratified that Pakistan has made a reciprocal decision, along the same lines, and we believe this is important, because we have been worried since the mobilization and forward deployment occurred that there could be flashpoint, an inadvertent escalation which led to a major conventional conflict between India and Pakistan. So we are quite pleased this has happened."

India's decision Wednesday to recall troops from the borders with Pakistan in all areas except the disputed Kashmir region led to a similar announcement by Islamabad a day later.

During the 10 month military standoff, the United States played a crucial role in easing tensions between the two countries, and preventing the outbreak of hostilities. The two countries were believed to be close to war on two occasions.

Although military tensions have eased, India has refused to resume a dialogue with Pakistan saying it continues to support infiltration by Islamic rebels into Indian controlled territory; a charge Pakistan denies.

Mr. Blackwill says it is important for both countries to talk about the issues that divide them, rather than not talk at all.

Meanwhile, the U.S. diplomat is urging both countries to take more steps to ease their difficult relationship.

"We are hoping that more de-escalatory steps will occur. There are a variety of ones of course that are posible including what I might call people to people steps, like the resumption of train links, and plane links, and so forth," Mr. Blackwill noted. " These are not so much the high politics of the relationship between India and Pakistan, but rather as I say the opportunity for citizens of both countries to interact, to see their families among other things. "

New Delhi cut air, rail, and bus links between the two countries in December last year, when an attack on India's parliament by suspected Pakistan-backed Islamic militants triggered the latest crisis between the rivals.

The European Union has also welcomed the troop withdrawal in the region, saying it signals the Indian government's willingness to de-escalate the conflict and play a stabilizing role in South Asia.

In India, the process of bringing troops from the borders back to the barracks has begun, but the massive exercise is expected to take at least two months to complete. The two countries had deployed nearly a million soldiers along their frontiers.