US urges India, Pakistan to ease tensions
AFP - 1 hour 39 minutes ago
ISLAMABAD (AFP) - - The United States has urged India and Pakistan to avoid an escalation of tensions after Islamabad redeployed troops to their common border and New Delhi reviewed its security options.
The call for calm from the White House came amid a flurry of diplomatic activity on both sides aimed at easing already badly strained ties, one month after the Mumbai attacks, which India has blamed on Pakistan-based militants.
Pakistani officials said Friday the military had moved troops from the tribal areas near Afghanistan, where they are fighting Taliban and Al-Qaeda militants, to the eastern border with India as a "minimum security" measure.
The senior security and defence officials described the troop movements as "limited" but the news set off alarm bells in New Delhi, where Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh summoned his military chiefs for a strategy session.
India also advised its nationals to avoid travel to Pakistan, saying it was unsafe for them to be in the country.
In Washington, the White House sought to restore calm between the nuclear-armed neighbours, which have fought three wars since independence from Britain in 1947, two of them over Kashmir.
"US officials are in touch with both the Indians and Pakistanis. We continue to urge both sides to cooperate on the Mumbai investigation as well as counterterrorism in general," White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe told AFP.
"We also do not want either side to take any unnecessary steps that raise tensions in an already tense situation."
Both Islamabad and New Delhi have said they do not want war, but warn they would act if provoked.
Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani reiterated Friday that Pakistan was a "peace-loving" nation that had no "aggressive designs", but warned it would respond if attacked, the Associated Press of Pakistan news agency reported.
Indian Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee meanwhile again called on Pakistan to do more to crack down on Lashkar-e-Taiba, the banned militant group that New Delhi says masterminded the Mumbai attacks, which left 172 people dead.
"We have ample evidence... to prove that elements based in Pakistan carried out the Mumbai attacks," Mukherjee said.
"Pakistan should not divert attention from the real issue of taking action against terrorists by raising war hysteria," he told reporters in New Delhi.
Mukherjee met Friday with Saudi Foreign Minister Saud Al-Faisal, saying he "expected Pakistan to take immediate steps to dismantle the infrastructure of terrorism," his office said in a statement.
Islamabad has said it is willing to cooperate with India in investigating the carnage, but says New Delhi has offered no solid proof that Pakistani nationals were involved.
Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi spoke Friday with his Chinese and Iranian counterparts, who pledged their support in efforts to maintain peace in South Asia, Qureshi's office said in a statement.
Mukherjee also spoke to Yang and Iran's Manouchehr Mottaki as well as US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, his office said.
Ties between India and Pakistan sank to their lowest point in late 2001, when militants staged a brazen attack on the Indian parliament -- a strike New Delhi also blamed on Lashkar-e-Taiba.
That attack prompted both sides to deploy hundreds of thousands of troops to the common border, but they eventually pulled back following intense international mediation.
On Friday, Pakistani officials said a "limited number of troops" -- in the thousands -- had been moved to the eastern border near India, and leave had been suspended for armed forces on active duty.
"We do not want to create any war hysteria but we have to take minimum security measures to ward off any threat," a defence ministry official told AFP on condition of anonymity.
Any major shift of Pakistani troops out of the tribal areas would likely spark concern in Washington and other Western capitals, as it could open the door to more cross-border militant attacks on foreign forces in Afghanistan.
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