Friday, December 26, 2008

India warns citizens it is unsafe to travel to Pakistan

About Thomson ReutersIndia warns travel to Pakistan is unsafe
Fri Dec 26, 2008 9:38am EST

India warns citizens it is unsafe to travel to Pakistan
8:40am EST

NEW DELHI/ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - India warned its citizens on Friday it was unsafe to travel to Pakistan after the prime minister met military chiefs, and Pakistan canceled army leave and moved some troops from its western border.

The warning marked a dramatic rise in tension between the nuclear-armed neighbors after last month's attack on Mumbai, in which 179 people were killed and which India has blamed on Islamist militants based in Pakistan.

It followed media reports in Pakistan and India that "several" Indian nationals had been arrested in the last two days after bombings in the Pakistani cities of Lahore and Multan.

"Indian citizens are therefore advised that it would be unsafe for them to travel (to) or be in Pakistan," India's Foreign Ministry spokesman said in a statement.

Another Foreign Ministry official contacted by Reuters said the warning referred to all travel to Pakistan.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's office earlier said Singh had discussed tension with Pakistan during a scheduled meeting about military pay with the chiefs of the army, navy and air force.

"The prime minister met the tri-services chiefs to discuss the pay commission issues but obviously the situation in the region was also discussed," said an official from Singh's office, who asked not to be identified. There were no other details.

Indian media said national security adviser M.K. Narayanan also attended the meeting.

Many analysts say it is very unlikely that the tension will

descend into war. The uneasy neighbors have fought three wars since independence in 1947 and came to the brink of a fourth in 2002 after an attack on the Indian parliament.

While there had been no significant troop movements in either country, military officials in Islamabad said army personnel had been ordered to report to barracks and some troops had been moved off the Afghan border.

"A limited number of troops from snow-bound areas and areas where operations are not being conducted have been pulled out," said a senior security official who declined to be identified.

The official declined to say where the troops had been moved to, citing the sensitivity of the issue, but Pakistani media have reported some troops had been redeployed to the Indian border.

A senior police official in Pakistan's Punjab province denied that any Indians had been arrested over the Lahore and Multan blasts but an intelligence agency official, who declined to be identified, said an Indian had been detained on Wednesday.

Several more Indians had been detained based on information obtained from that suspect, the intelligence official said.


The movement of Pakistani troops off the Afghan border is likely to concern the United States which does not want Pakistan distracted from the battle against al Qaeda and Taliban militants on Pakistan's western border.

India, the United States and Britain have blamed the Mumbai attack on Pakistan-based Islamist group Lashkar-e-Taiba, set up to fight Indian rule in the disputed Kashmir region.

Pakistan has condemned the Mumbai attacks and has denied any state role, blaming "non-state actors." It has offered to cooperate with India but denies Indian claims that it has been handed firm evidence of links to militants in Pakistan.

Islamabad has also said that it will defend itself if attacked.

Increasingly frenzied media reporting on both sides of the border has fueled war speculation, although leaders from both countries have said war would serve no one's interests.

Such speculation even caused an uptick in Indian federal bond yields in late trade on Friday, traders said.

Washington has joined Britain in urging restraint from India, but at the same time has demanded Pakistan act decisively to wipe out banned groups such as Lashkar-e-Taiba.

China emerged as a potential peace broker after Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi unexpectedly called his counterparts in New Delhi and Islamabad in the past two days.

China has long been a close ally of Pakistan, while India and Washington have been building close ties.

A senior government official in New Delhi said Yang had suggested a meeting between Indian and Pakistani officials to discuss the tension over the Mumbai attacks.

Indian Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee told Yang Pakistan must take major steps against militants before such a meeting would be possible, the official said. A crackdown on Pakistan-based militants after the 2001 parliament attack was widely regarded as a sham.

Yang telephoned Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi on Friday, calling for peace and stability in South Asia.

(Writing by Paul Tait and Robert Birsel; Editing by Jeremy Laurence)

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