ISLAMABAD, Pakistan – Pakistan told Washington on Friday that it may need to pull away troops patrolling its border with Afghanistan to deal with a possible conflict with India, Pakistani military and diplomatic officials said.
The pullout likely would seriously hamper the hunt for Usama bin Laden and his Al Qaeda fighters fleeing U.S. bombardment. Many of the fleeing fighters have fled across the border into Pakistan and been caught by Pakistani patrols.
Some 30,000 to 40,000 Pakistani troops have been deployed in the provinces bordering Afghanistan.
The senior army official said Pakistan may need to move its troops from its western border with Afghanistan to its eastern frontiers with India. He did not say how many troops could be moved.
A Pakistani diplomatic official said notice that the troops may be moved was sent to the United States through official channels, though he did not specify how. Both officials spoke on condition of anonymity.
Neither official specified under what circumstances Pakistan would decide the pullout would have to take place.
Tensions between India and Pakistan have flared since a Dec. 13 gun attack on Parliament in New Delhi that India accused Pakistan of sponsoring. Both countries have massed troops at their border, where there has been near daily exchanges of fire.
The army official said the military may also need to use at least one of three air bases that Pakistan has essentially handed over for use by U.S. troops for operations in Afghanistan.
Pakistan particularly needs the Jacobabad air base in southern Sindh province, where the concentration of Indian troops is largest, he said. Jacobabad is the main base being used by the American troops.
More than 2,000 U.S. troops are stationed in Pakistan. The other two air fields providing logistic support to the coalition forces are in Pasni and Dalbandin, in Baluchistan province.
Pakistan has also informed the United Nations it will be pulling out its 4,000 soldiers from the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Sierra Leone, both officials said.