x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Pakistan 'does not want war'

Despite extensive troop movements, Pakistan has told India it does not want war and will only attack if provoked.

Pakistan again said today it did not want war with India, as the international community tried to defuse tensions between the nuclear-armed neighbours after Islamabad moved troops to the border. The White House called for calm amid a flurry of diplomatic activity in both Islamabad and New Delhi aimed at easing already badly strained ties, one month after the Mumbai attacks, which India has blamed on Pakistan-based militants. "We don't want to have aggression with our neighbours. We want to have friendly relations with our neighbours," The Pakistani prime minister Yousuf Raza Gilani said at his official residence in remarks broadcast on state television. "I assure you once again that we will not act. We will only react," he added, as he led a special prayer ceremony in honour of two-time former premier Benazir Bhutto, who was assassinated one year ago in a gun and suicide attack. On Friday, Pakistani officials said the military had moved troops from the tribal areas near Afghanistan, where they are fighting Taliban and al Qa'eda militants, to the eastern border with India as a "minimum security" measure. The senior security and defence officials described the troop movements as "limited" but the news set off alarm bells in New Delhi, where the Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh summoned his military chiefs for a strategy session. India also advised its nationals to avoid travel to Pakistan, saying it was unsafe for them to be in the country. In Washington, the White House sought to restore calm between the South Asian neighbours, which have fought three wars since independence from Britain in 1947, two of them over Kashmir. "US officials are in touch with both the Indians and Pakistanis. We continue to urge both sides to co-operate on the Mumbai investigation as well as counterterrorism in general," White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe said. "We also do not want either side to take any unnecessary steps that raise tensions in an already tense situation." Both Islamabad and New Delhi have repeatedly said they do not want war and have called on the other to tone down the rhetoric, but warn they would act if provoked. The Indian foreign minister Pranab Mukherjee again called on Pakistan to do more to crack down on Lashkar-i-Taiba, the banned militant group that New Delhi says masterminded the Mumbai attacks, which left 172 people dead. "Pakistan should not divert attention from the real issue of taking action against terrorists by raising war hysteria," he told reporters in New Delhi. Islamabad has said it is willing to co-operate with India in investigating the carnage but says New Delhi has offered no solid proof that Pakistani nationals were involved. Mr Mukherjee met yesterday in the Indian capital with the Saudi foreign minister Saud al Faisal, and spoke to US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, his Chinese counterpart Yang Jiechi, and Iran's Manouchehr Mottaki, his office said. Pakistan's Shah Mehmood Qureshi also spoke with the Chinese and Iranian ministers, who pledged their support in efforts to maintain peace in South Asia, Mr Qureshi's office said in a statement. Ties between India and Pakistan recently sank to their lowest point in late 2001, when militants staged a brazen attack on the Indian parliament - a strike New Delhi also blamed on Lashkar-i-Taiba. That attack prompted both sides to deploy hundreds of thousands of troops to the common border but they eventually pulled back following intense international mediation. Yesterday, Pakistani officials said a "limited number of troops" - local media put the figure at 20,000 - had been moved to the eastern border near India, and leave had been suspended for armed forces on active duty. "We do not want to create any war hysteria but we have to take minimum security measures to ward off any threat," a defence ministry official said on condition of anonymity. Any major shift of Pakistani troops out of the tribal areas would likely spark concern in Washington and other Western capitals, as it could open the door to more cross-border militant attacks on foreign forces in Afghanistan. *AFP