Pakistan Pledges to Withdraw Troops to 'Peacetime Locations'

Pakistan on Thursday announced it would withdraw hundreds of thousands of troops deployed along its border with India to their "peacetime locations," matching a similar pledge by India.

The moves were the most concrete steps by the two South Asian nuclear rivals to reduce tension since they nearly went to war in May.

"The government of Pakistan has decided to withdraw its forces from the Pakistan-India border to their peacetime locations," the Foreign Ministry said in a brief statement. "The pullback will commence shortly."

The ministry said the decision was made after a top level meeting chaired by Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf.

India and Pakistan have a long history of tension along their 1,800- mile border, especially in the disputed Himalayan province of Kashmir. More than 1 million troops are currently deployed on both sides.

India said Wednesday it would withdraw tens of thousands of its troops from the border with Pakistan, but none from the line of control that separates the disputed region of Kashmir.

"It's welcome news," said U.S. Embassy spokesman Terry White.

No details were immediately available on the exact number of troops that would be withdrawn, or when the pullback would commence.

The rival South Asian countries have fought two wars for control of the lush, mountainous province of Kashmir. At least 61,000 people have died in the last 12 years of an insurgency by more than a dozen Islamic groups fighting for Kashmir's secession from India or its merger with Pakistan.

Tension between India and Pakistan has been high since a Dec. 13 attack on the Indian Parliament, which the Indian government blamed on Pakistan-based Islamic groups and Islamabad's spy agency.

Pakistan and the rebel groups reject the charge, but more rebel attacks in the Indian-controlled portion of Kashmir again pushed the countries to the brink of war in May.

The statement followed a longer one by the Foreign Ministry that called India's move a "step in the right direction." But that statement made no specific pledge to reciprocate the pullback.

"Pakistan has always stood for normal relations with India," the earlier Foreign Ministry statement said. "Pakistan has consistently called for deescalation, withdrawal by India of its forces to peacetime locations and the resumption of dialogue."

The earlier statement said Pakistan would have a "positive and timely response" to India's announced troop withdrawal, once it was implemented on the ground, but the second statement contained no such caveats.