NEW DELHI, India – Pakistan withdrew troops from the Afghan border Friday, possibly to move them to the Kashmir frontier for a faceoff with India, as the United States stepped up efforts to avert war on the nuclear-armed subcontinent.
President Bush announced Thursday that he would send Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld to the region next week. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage also is scheduled to visit Islamabad and New Delhi next week.
Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf said he was considering moving more troops to Kashmir, a divided region over which India and Pakistan have twice gone to war. The adversaries have a total of 1 million soldiers on high alert along their border.
"Our security comes first. We will use all our resources to protect our security," Musharraf told reporters Thursday.
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 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 Qaeda and Taliban fighters who took refuge in the chaotic, mountainous tribal regions on both sides of the frontier, and they have been involved in the arrests of prominent Al Qaeda leaders.
But Rashid Quereshi, Musharraf's spokesman, confirmed a pullback of troops, and witnesses in the northwestern frontier area said Thursday they had seen scores of army trucks moving soldiers.
Quereshi insisted 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. It was believed Pakistan had a total of about 6,000 troops along the border, but the government never reveals troop strength.
With no sign that either India or Pakistan was offering a diplomatic solution in Kashmir, concern mounted about a broader military conflict. Both India and Pakistan tested nuclear weapons in 1998, raising the stakes in their long-standing rivalry and drawing international concern.
India regularly informs the United States through diplomatic channels that it intends to go to war over Kashmir if attacks by extremists are not curtailed, a senior U.S. official told The Associated Press. But India has not advised the Bush administration how it would conduct such a conflict, said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Secretary of State Colin Powell was weighing a decision, meanwhile, on whether to withdraw nonessential U.S. diplomats from India and to advise 60,000 U.S. citizens in the country to leave.
Indian military officials denied reports that India had secretly given Pakistan a deadline to halt cross-border infiltration by Pakistan-based Islamic militants into Indian-controlled Kashmir or face an assault by its troops.
A top Indian military officer told the AP that it was difficult to set a time frame for an assault against Pakistan because a variety of factors would have to be considered. He said the diplomatic pressure on both countries was unprecedented and playing a major role.
In Singapore on Friday, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz said the U.S. efforts to prevent war include both promises of incentives and warnings of punishments. "I don't think we believe in exhortation alone," Wolfowitz said. "It will be along with carrots and sticks."
Wolfowitz planned to meet with Indian Defense Minister George Fernandes on Friday as military officials from Southeast Asia gathered for a regional security conference.
Bush, after a Cabinet meeting Thursday, said, "We are making it very clear to both Pakistan and India that war will not serve their interests. We are part of an international coalition applying pressure to both parties."
Bush urged Musharraf to "live up to his word" and stop cross-border attacks in Kashmir.
India accuses Pakistan of supporting Islamic militant groups waging an insurgency in the Indian-ruled portion of Kashmir, a Himalayan province that has been the flash point of two wars between the uneasy neighbors, in 1948 and 1965.
Relations between India and Pakistan have been troubled since independence from Britain in 1947 — they fought a third war in 1971 — but tensions soared last December after a deadly terrorist attack on India's Parliament that India blamed on the Pakistan-based Islamic insurgents.
Islamic Pakistan says its support for insurgents fighting in Indian-ruled Kashmir — Hindu-majority India's only predominantly Muslim region — is moral and diplomatic, and denies India's claim that it funds and trains them.
Musharraf and Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee will attend a summit in Kazakhstan next week, where Russian President Vladimir Putin is trying to organize face-to-face talks. Pakistan has agreed, but India says militant attacks must stop first.
In New Delhi, Fernandes told the AP on Thursday that as many as 3,000 Al Qaeda and Taliban fighters who fled Afghanistan were now in Pakistan-ruled Kashmir. Pakistan flatly denies that Al Qaeda and Taliban figures are there, while U.S. and Afghan officials said they are unaware of any such presence.