Associated Press Writer
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (AP) — Pakistan began moving thousands of troops to the Indian border Friday, intelligence officials said, sharply raising tensions triggered by the Mumbai terror attacks.
India is blaming Pakistani-based militants for last month's siege on its financial capital, which killed 164 people and has provoked an increasingly bitter war of words between nuclear-armed neighbors that have fought three wars in 60 years.
The troops headed to the Indian border were being diverted away from tribal areas near Afghanistan, officials said, and the move was expected to frustrate the United States which has been pushing Pakistan to step up its fight against al-Qaida and Taliban militants near the Afghan border.
Two intelligence officials said the army's 14th Division was being redeployed to the towns of Kasur and Sialkot, close to the Indian border. They said some 20,000 troops were on the move. Earlier Friday, a security official said that all troop leave had been canceled.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation.
A spokesman for India's Defense Ministry offered no immediate response.
Earlier, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh met Friday with the chiefs of the army, navy and air force to discuss "the prevailing security situation," according to an official statement.
An Associated Press reporter in Dera Ismail Khan, a district that borders Pakistan's militant-infested South Waziristan tribal area, said he saw around 40 trucks loaded with soldiers heading away from the Afghan border.
A senior security official confirmed that soldiers were being moved out of the border area, but said it was "a limited number from areas where they were not engaged in any operation."
He decline further comment and asked his name not be used, citing the sensitivity of the situation.
Analysts said the redeployment was likely meant as a warning to India not to launch missile strikes against militant targets on its territory, a response that some have speculated is possible.
"It is a message to India that if you think you can get away with strikes, you are sadly mistaken," said Talat Masood, a retired general and military analyst based in Islamabad.
India has demanded Pakistan arrest the perpetrators behind the Mumbai attacks. It says they are members of Lashkar-e-Taiba, a militant group widely believed created by Pakistani intelligence in the 1980s and used to fight Indian-rule in disputed Kashmir region.
Islamabad's recently elected civilian government has said it will cooperate in any probe, but has insisted it has seen no evidence backing up India's claims its citizens were involved.
Pakistan and India have fought three wars since their independence from Britain in 1947, two over Kashmir, a Muslim majority region in the Himalayas claimed by both countries.
They came close to a fourth after suspected Pakistani militants attacked India's parliament in 2001. Both countries massed hundreds of thousands of troops to the disputed Kashmir region, but tensions cooled after intensive international diplomacy.
News of the buildup comes as even Indian officials say militant activity in Indian Kashmir has fallen to its lowest levels since an anti-India militant movement began there in 1989.
The number of militant attacks fell 40 percent from 2007-2008, reaching 709 this year from roughly 1,100 last year, Kuldeep Khoda, a senior police official, said in a statement.
Police say there are 850 militants fighting in the region, including followers of Lashkar-e-Taiba.
Indian authorities say the decrease in attacks is the result of an experienced security apparatus that has struck at the heart of many militant groups — Khoda said Indian forces have killed about 350 militants this year, including some top-ranking commanders. But they also say that the militants have scaled back their attacks as a large public protest movement gained momentum since last summer.