In a frightening move that is raising already precarious tensions, Pakistan has begun transferring troops and artillery away from the Afghanistan / northwestern Pakistan front to key points on its border with India, near Kashmir. According to at least some unnamed sources in Pakistan’s military and intelligence services, the move comes in response to new intelligence that India is preparing to launch a raid or attack as soon as early next week.
At this writing, the scale of Pakistan’s troop movements remains unclear, but the emerging news suggests it is significant. Reports from late Friday said “there was little to indicate that the troop movements constituted a major redeployment,” and in its Saturday edition the NY Times reported that “Several senior American officials said they had not seen evidence of major troop movements.”Â Yet.
However, the Associated Press on Sunday quoted two anonymous Pakistani intelligence sources as saying “a total of 20,000 soldiers — about one-fifth of the deployment in the tribal areas” were to be redeployed from Waziristan.Â While the sources gave no timeframe for how fast or slow the redeployment would be, the AP report said residents in that area are seeing massive and immediate movement.Â Mushtaq Bokhari, a resident near the Punjabi border with the North West Frontier Province, reported a “a big, big convoy.Â It took about three hours to pass through our city.”
Pakistani and international news reports indicate troops are being redeployed to Kasur and Sialkot (strategic points near hyper-sensitive Kashmir), and Lahore, the second-largest city in Pakistan, just 20 miles from the Indian border.Â This area of the country is the stronghold of Lashkar-e-Taiba and related groups which were responsible for the deadly Mumbai raid in which 163 were killed.Â It is also perilously close to the national capital of Islamabad.
The Kashmir-Lahore corridor is also the very same area where two weeks ago Indian warplanes crossed into Pakistani airspace, in two separate incidents occurring almost simultaneously.Â At the time, both governments made a public show of saying it was understood the incursions were “accidental,” but everyone understood the true message.Â At the very same time, there were eyewitness reports that “Long convoys of military trucks” comprised of “hundreds of medium and heavy artillery vehicles” were on the move in the area.Â The Times of India summarized Pakistani news reports that quoted travelers, motorists, and residents who had seen the large-scale artillery movements.
Regarding the current troop redeployment, in an article by Richard A. Oppel Jr. and Salman Masood, “Pakistan Moves Troops Amid Tension With India” (New York Times, Dec. 26, 2008), only a few Pakistani officials would speak and all insisted on anonymity.Â Somewhat conflicting versions emerged from those who did talk.
One senior Pakistani military official said the decision to move forces and restrict furloughs was made “in view of the prevailing environment,” namely deteriorating relations with India since the terrorist attacks. He added that the air force was “vigilant” and “alert” for the same reason.
…[But] Some of the Pakistani officials who spoke of the redeployment said it was partly a response to new intelligence that suggested India could launch an attack inside Pakistan by early next week. All of them spoke on the condition of anonymity.
One senior Pakistani military official who said troops were being redeployed from the areas where government forces were engaging the Taliban, added that the soldiers who were leaving were “being pulled out of areas where no operations are being conducted,” or where winter weather had limited their ability to maneuver. He called the number of soldiers being moved “limited.”
He and another senior Pakistani military official interviewed Friday about the troop movements chose their words very carefully and offered few details. They said nothing harsh about India, even though they were speaking anonymously.
But two Pakistani intelligence officials â€” one from military intelligence and one from the country’s premier agency, Inter-Services Intelligence â€” described the situation in graver terms, and said troops along the border with India were on the highest state of alert.
Another Pakistani official said the air force had been in a “point defense” posture for one week, prepared to defend specific key defense installations and cities â€” including Islamabad, Rawalpindi and Lahore â€” as well as the Kahuta nuclear weapons laboratory. Pilots are sleeping in uniform with their boots on, the official said.
Meanwhile, at least some Pakistani officials are trying to keep a poker face.Â In the AP’s Sunday, Dec. 28, 2008 article, “a senior Pakistani security official denied that the troops were being deployed to the Indian border.”
“He said a ‘limited number’ of soldiers were being shifted from areas ‘where they were not engaged in any operations on the western border or from areas which were snowbound.’
“He declined further comment and asked that his name not be used, also citing the sensitivity of the situation.”
For it’s part, India — for the moment at least — is projecting a calm front even as there are reports that it too is moving troops to the border. On Saturday (Dec. 27), a spokesperson for India’s ministry of defense dismissed the reports as “baseless and speculative,” yet acknowledged there were maneuvers underway. According to a news item on the Indian Sify.com web portal:
“The Army headquarters has termed all such reports as baseless and speculative in nature,” Defence Ministry spokesperson Sitanshu Kar said.
Yyyeah, if you say so.
More here in this AP video news piece via YouTube — including press announcement footage of India External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee addressing Pakistan’s redeployment.