India, Pakistan to Cut Forces on Border
After five days of talks aimed at easing tension along their border, India and Pakistan agreed Wednesday to withdraw several divisions from a strategic northern area.
They also agreed “not to attack each other” and to continue negotiations for the withdrawal of at least 10 additional divisions that will still be in place on the border.
Officials said they hope that the agreement, initialed by the foreign secretaries of the two countries, will allow them to concentrate in more friendly fields of strife, notably a hotly contested series of cricket matches taking place in Madras.
The military face-off on the border started two weeks ago as India prepared to carry out a military exercise, the largest in its history, in the state of Rajasthan adjacent to Pakistan’s Sind province.
Pakistan, with an army only half the size of India’s--India has almost 1 million soldiers on active duty--reacted by moving several divisions to key northern locations, near Sialkot, across from Jammu in the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir, and along the Sutlej River across from Fazilka in the state of Punjab.
Tension Built Up
India promptly moved troops into the same areas. By Jan. 23, according to India’s Foreign Secretary Alfred Gonsalves, the situation had reached a “crescendo of tension.”
After a telephone call from Prime Minister Mohammed Khan Junejo of Pakistan to India’s Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, the two sides agreed to meet in New Delhi beginning last Saturday.
The discussions began on schedule, and India refused to alter its plans for the military exercise, called Operation Brass Tacks. About 150,000 men were to take part, in the Great Indian Desert between Bikaner and Jaisalmer.
Pakistan, meanwhile, refused to withdraw its troops from some of its other border positions so long as the Indian exercise continues.
According to Lt. Gen. Kanwal Kishan Hazari, the Indian army vice chief of staff, at least five divisions--100,000 men--on each side will remain in these border positions, including near Fazilka, unless a further agreement can be reached on additional withdrawals.
Seen as First Step
Still, the agreement reached Wednesday was seen by representatives of both countries as a first step in eliminating the tension that had been building up. Under the agreement, each side will withdraw about 60,000 men from the area between the Ravi and Chenab rivers near Sialkot, a key battleground in three previous wars.
“The mere fact that there has been a meeting of minds and a de-escalation has started will ease the tension,” Hazari said.
Humayan Khan, the Pakistani ambassador to India, said: “It was a question of mutual reassurances. We have succeeded in reassuring them; they have succeeded in reassuring us.”
Gonsalves, the Indian foreign secretary, said the talks left Pakistani officials “considerably less concerned about the whole scope of our Operation Brass Tacks.”
Khan, the Pakistani ambassador, said that India had accepted some Pakistani troop movements as “a precautionary measure.”
To Exercise Restraint
In addition to the withdrawal from the Ravi-Chenab corridor, to be carried out within 15 days, the two sides agreed “to exercise maximum restraint and to avoid all provocative actions along the border.”
Also, the agreement calls for the removal of mines along the border, for the deactivation of temporary airfields and for the navies of both countries to be “brought to a lower state of operational readiness.”
Despite the flurry of military activity on the border and the discussions in the Indian capital, most of India has been more concerned this week with another battle between India and Pakistan--on a cricket pitch in Madras, the capital of the south Indian state of Tamil Nadu.
In that contest, the Pakistani national team made a strong showing in the opening innings of a five-day test match. India will have its turn at bat today and Friday, and most cricket buffs expect the competition to end as do most matches between the two countries--in a draw.