20,000 Pakistani troops move toward Indian border, officials say

Pakistan has begun moving thousands of troops to the Indian border, intelligence officials said on Friday.

Pakistan has begun moving thousands of troops to the Indian border, intelligence officials said on Friday.

The army's 14th Division — about 20,000 troops — was being redeployed to the towns of Kasur and Sialkot, close to the Indian border, two intelligence officials said on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation.

The redeployment, which will relocate about one-fifth of Pakistani troops serving in the country's tribal areas, began on Thursday evening.

"Senior security officials said a limited number of soldiers had been pulled out from non-essential positions along the Afghan border," the CBC's Barbara Plett reported from Islamabad.

"[They] didn't say to where they'd been redeployed, but Pakistani media have reported that troops are strengthening some positions on the border with India."

A Pakistani military official said Pakistan has scaled down air strikes against Taliban militants in the northwest in order to redeploy aircraft near the Indian border, Plett said.

War of words

Another security official, however, denied that troops were being deployed to the Indian border, saying a limited number of soldiers were being moved from places "where they were not engaged in any operations on the western border or from areas which were snowbound."

Nuclear-armed neighbours India and Pakistan have become increasingly entangled in a war of words since the Mumbai terrorist attacks that killed 164 people in November.

India blames Pakistani-based militants for the attacks in its financial capital.

Pakistan has also announced that it is cancelling all military leave.

"All soldiers have been asked to report to duty," a military official, who asked to remain anonymous, told Reuters.

Analysts said the redeployment is likely meant as a warning to India not to launch missile strikes against militant targets on its territory. It is not likely an indication that the two countries are about to descend into war, analysts said.

Response threatened

Pakistan warned India on Thursday not to launch a strike against it and threatened to respond to any attack.

"India should refrain from any surgical strike," Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi told reporters Thursday in his hometown of Multan in central Pakistan.

"It should not commit this mistake, but if it does, Pakistan will be compelled to respond."

He also made a point to say that Pakistan seeks peace with India, with which it has fought three wars since their independence from Britain in 1947.

His sentiments were echoed Friday by Pakistani Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani. 

"We will not take any action on our own," Gilani told reporters. "There will be no aggression from our side."

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh met with the chiefs of the army, navy and air force to discuss "the prevailing security situation," according to an official statement.

India issues warning to travellers

The Indian government issued an advisory on Friday telling its citizens that it is unsafe to travel to Pakistan while the tensions rise between the rivals.

"They should concentrate on the real issue: how to fight against terrorists and how to fight against and bring to book the perpetrators of [the] Mumbai terrorist attack," said Indian Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee.

The troop movement is also frustrating the United States, which has been urging Pakistan to step up its efforts to fight al-Qaeda and other militants near the Afghan border.

White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe said Friday the United States hopes both sides will avoid unnecessarily raising tensions.

U.S. military leaders have been urging both India and Pakistan to exercise restraint in the wake of the deadly Mumbai attacks.

With files from the Associated Press