WASHINGTON – Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld expressed hope Thursday that Pakistan would not redeploy troops away from the Afghan border in reaction to rising tensions with India.
Rumsfeld said he had seen no sign yet of a redeployment.
"The number of Pakistani battalions that have been located along that Afghan border has not changed," he told a Pentagon news conference. "And we hope it will not change."
In Islamabad, a government spokesman said Pakistan already had begun moving troops away from the border, although the spokesman asserted that Pakistan would continue to provide as much support as possible for the U.S.-led coalition that is hunting down al-Qaida and Taliban fighters, mostly in the border area.
Pentagon officials speaking on condition of anonymity said Pakistan had begun moving equipment and weapons away from the Afghan border area but, as of Thursday, had moved no troops.
Rumsfeld would not say exactly how U.S. forces would react if they lost the direct assistance of Pakistani troops along the Afghan border.
"We'd have to be more attentive inside Afghanistan if Pakistani forces were not on the opposite side of the border," he said. "We'd have to find ways to do it from within Afghanistan, for sure."
Rumsfeld said there were no plans to evacuate the thousands of U.S. troops in and around Afghanistan. If the Indian-Pakistani tensions become a threat to the undetermined number of U.S. civilians in those two countries, it would be largely up to them to get out on their own, he said.
Gen. Peter Pace, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters that standard evacuation plans drawn up by the U.S. embassies in New Delhi and Islamabad were being reviewed "to make sure the plans are current."
Rumsfeld was reluctant to elaborate on President Bush's decision to send him to Islamabad and New Delhi next week to try to lower tensions. Rumsfeld said he had not yet discussed the trip with his Pakistani or Indian counterparts but he hoped to make the visits after attending meetings at NATO headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, next week.
"There's no question but that I would not be going on this visit if we were not concerned about the situation between these two countries," he said.
Rumsfeld was asked whether India has a right to use military power in response to cross-border attacks.
"To the extent a country is a victim of terrorism, we've indicated that we personally believe it is clearly within their right to try to stamp it out," he said. "Now, what does that mean in a given instance? That's a separate question, and it's not for me to answer. That's for Pakistan and India to sort out."