TALLINN, Estonia – The risk of war between India and Pakistan remains high, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said Friday as he prepared to visit the nuclear-armed rivals.
"There is nothing that has changed the situation to any degree favorably," Rumsfeld told reporters accompanying him to this Baltic capital after two days of NATO meetings in Belgium.
Still, in what might be seen as a positive development, a senior U.S. official traveling with Rumsfeld said three battalions of Pakistani Army troops, about 2,000 soldiers, had been moved closer to the border with Afghanistan – farther from Pakistan's eastern border with India.
The official, who disclosed the troop movement on condition of anonymity, said the extra Pakistani troops would be available for operations against the Al Qaeda terrorist network, whose holdout fighters are hiding in remote and mountainous areas along the Pakistani-Afghan border.
Rumsfeld said he had "not seen anything significant in terms of adjustments" of Pakistani or Indian armed forces facing off over the disputed Kashmir region or in their alert levels.
India has about 250,000 troops and 1,500 artillery pieces on its side of the line of control, which separates the Indian and Pakistani sectors of Kashmir. Pakistan has about 180,000 troops and 600 guns.
Rumsfeld plans to visit the Pakistani and Indian capitals late next week, after talks in Tallinn with Baltic and Nordic defense ministers and stops early next week in Kuwait, Qatar and Bahrain.
Officials said Rumsfeld hoped to meet in Tallinn on Sunday with Richard Armitage, the deputy secretary of state, who said Friday after talks in New Delhi that tensions with Pakistan had eased but not enough to avert the possibility of war. Armitage was in Islamabad, Pakistan's capital, on Thursday.
In Washington, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher suggested tensions may be easing between India and Pakistan. He said the United States has growing indications that infiltration of Islamic militants into Indian Kashmir from the Pakistani side "is down significantly."
Boucher said the change may not be permanent, although Pakistan has promised to end the infiltration.
The United States is in an unusual position regarding the possibility of war breaking out between Pakistan and India. Thousands of American troops are operating in the area and, if war were to turn into a nuclear exchange, they theoretically could be in grave danger.
Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Friday the United States has plans to move American troops now operating in and around Pakistan should war break out.
Speaking in Brussels, Belgium, Myers told reporters he could not discuss details of the contingency plan, which had not been implemented Friday.
About 7,000 U.S. troops are in Afghanistan, which shares a border with Pakistan. A smaller number of American forces are in Pakistan; sailors and Marines are in the northern Arabian Sea. Thousands of troops from allied countries also are in the area.
The contingency plans for moving American forces were drawn up by Gen. Tommy Franks, responsible for U.S. troops in Pakistan, Afghanistan and the Arabian Sea, and Adm. Thomas Fargo, chief of the U.S. Pacific Command, whose area of responsibility includes India.
In separate interviews, Rumsfeld and Myers said they knew of no plan to offer American troops to monitor the line of control that separates the Pakistani and Indian sectors of Kashmir.
India has proposed joint Indian-Pakistani patrols along the line of separation, but Pakistan has rejected that.
Before flying to Tallinn, Rumsfeld stopped at Geilenkirchen Air Base in western Germany, home base for a fleet of NATO AWACS surveillance planes.
Addressing several hundred allied air crews assembled in a hangar, Rumsfeld thanked them for helping patrol American skies for months after the Sept. 11 attacks.
"You are allies in the true sense of the word, and the American people are indeed grateful to each one of you," he said.