Pakistan begins withdrawing troops from Afghan border

Friday, May 31, 2002

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan -- In a demonstration of his government's shifting priorities, Pakistan's president on Thursday began withdrawing troops helping fight al-Qaida terrorists on the Afghan border, and said he was considering moving them to Kashmir to face off against India.

"Our security comes first. We will use all our resources to protect our security," President Gen. Pervez Musharraf said at a news conference in Islamabad. He said his government was "very seriously contemplating moving them onto the eastern border if tensions remain as high as they are now."

The redeployment of what would likely be only a few thousand men would have virtually no impact on the balance of power in Kashmir, but it could deeply affect the U.S.-led war against terrorism.

The Pakistani troops on the Afghan border were deployed to help U.S.-led forces track down al-Qaida and Taliban fighters who had taken refuge in the wild and mountainous tribal region on both sides of the frontier, and they have been involved in the arrests of several prominent al-Qaida leaders.

In Washington, President Bush said he was sending Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld to the region next week to help ease tensions between the two nuclear-armed neighbors.

Rumsfeld said the United States had not seen any sign of a Pakistani withdrawal from the border with Afghanistan.

But Rashid Quereshi, Musharraf's spokesman, confirmed a pullback of troops, and witnesses in the northwestern frontier area said they had seen scores of army trucks moving soldiers.

Quereshi claimed the pullback from the Afghan border, where about 1,000 additional troops were deployed less than a month ago, would not affect Pakistan's relations with the U.S.-led coalition.

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