Saturday, December 27, 2008

Diplomatic moves stepped up to defuse tension

Diplomatic moves stepped up to defuse tension

By Baqir Sajjad Syed & Iftikhar A. Khan

ISLAMABAD, Dec 26: Troops were put on alert on Saturday as a precautionary measure, while diplomatic activities gained pace to defuse tensions between Pakistan and India.

“As part of necessary preparation, minimum defensive measures have been taken,” a senior security official said.

The move by the army includes partial relocation of troops from the Afghan border.

A military official clarified that the pullback of troops from the western frontiers was limited and only from snowbound areas and regions where no operations were going on. Restrictions were imposed on leaves by army personnel.

The official denied direct deployment of troops on the borders with India.

The military posturing came in response to similar Indian moves a day earlier in which the Indian army cancelled leaves of its personnel and started moving troops towards the border.

Military sources said the steps taken by Pakistan were precautionary and the situation across the border was being constantly monitored. “The leadership will take decisions according to the situation,” a source said.

Analysts see the limited pullout from the tribal areas as a signal to the United States that Pakistan may withdraw its troops from the western border for deployment along the eastern border if the US fails to play a role in defusing the tension which is escalating as a result of India’s hostile posture.

They said it was meaningful that the pullback was being termed limited and pointed out that a leading US-based online geopolitical intelligence publisher, Stratfor, had predicted that there was a high probability of India using military force against Pakistan after Dec 26 when a deadline expires for Pakistan to deliver on Indian demands to crack down on ‘Islamic militant proxies that threaten India’. The report said India had spent the past month preparing for military action.

Sources told Dawn that the PAF had taken seriously a statement by an Indian air force official that 5,000 targets in Pakistan had been identified.

They said that any incursion into the country’s airspace would be taken as an act of war and the intruding planes would be shot down.

They said India would not be allowed to carry out a ‘surgical strike’ in Pakistan.

According to our staff reporter in Lahore, Pakistan has started deploying troops along the Lahore and Sialkot borders. There were reports that villagers along the borders had been asked to vacate the area but official sources said such a step would be taken at the ‘second stage’. “If the tension escalates, the villagers will have to move.”

A man from a Wagah border village told Dawn: “We are very much worried over the situation because we will be the first ones to be affected in case of war.” He said rumours of war were spreading in the area and village elders “are expecting orders from the authorities concerned to leave their homes anytime”.

According to BBC, India is closely monitoring the troops’ build-up along the border.

Meanwhile, Pakistan went on a diplomatic counter-offensive, briefing world powers and countries in the region on the deteriorating relations with India and the steps taken by it to address Indian concerns.

Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir met ambassadors of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council — the US, Britain, China, France and Russia. He also met ambassadors of Italy, Japan, Germany, Saudi Arabia, Iran and Turkey soon after returning from France where he had gone for annual bilateral consultations.

However, his most crucial meeting was with Indian High Commissioner Satyabrata Pal at the Foreign Office late in the evening when he said that India should defuse tension. Mr Pal was accompanied by his deputy Manpreet Vohra.

The Indian side was categorically told that any ‘surgical strikes’ would be considered a declaration of war.

India was urged to respond to Pakistan’s proposal for joint investigation into the Mumbai attacks.According to sources, the Indian diplomats looked sombre when they came out of the meeting.

Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi held discussion on phone with his Chinese and Iranian counterparts, both of whom had earlier spoken to Indian External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee.

Talking to Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi, Mr Qureshi stressed the need for India to pursue “a policy of restraint and responsibility”.

Mr Yang promised that China would remain in close contact with Pakistan in pursuance of peace and stability in the region.

Talking to Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki, Mr Qureshi reiterated that terrorism was a regional concern which required cooperation of all countries.

Mr Mottaki said Iran would like to remain engaged with both Pakistan and India for defusing the tension.

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