NEW DELHI — For the first time in 60 years, Pakistan has considerably reduced the number of troops along the heavily guarded border with India.
The matter has come up in the Cabinet Committee on Security headed by the Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh.
Turmoil in Pakistan and unrest in its western areas, have resulted in Pakistani troops being pulled away in large numbers from the border areas adjoining Jammu and Kashmir, Punjab, Rajasthan and Gujarat.
Reports quoting intelligence agencies said here yesterday that the aggressively positioned eastern frontier areas adjoining India have become extremely thin. Pakistani troops that otherwise are positioned to counter Indian forces, have been moved out to Waziristan and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas on the western borders, reports said.
Intelligence officials have been quoted as saying that strain is starting to tell on the regular Pakistan army with tensions mounting in the north west frontier. “The very sign of pressure building up against Pakistan is that their forces which never compromised on its eastern border have been moved out leaving the border areas along India lean and lanky,” said top officials.
Some 38,000 troops from key border installations have been repositioned, the Caninet Committee has been told. It is said as many as 15 Infantry Brigades of Pakistan army have been repositioned on the border areas of north west frontier to fight Taleban.
Many reserve troops and units that were on duty on the borders at Indo-Pak Line of Control have been moved out. Even soldiers from the elite strike corps that are trained to slice into India in the event of war along with reserves with the army GHQ in Rawalpindi have been mobilised. However, this doesn’t indicate that Pakistan’s eastern border has been left totally unattended.
The thinning of troops indicate that Islamabad is quite apprehensive about internal developments more than any untoward events unfolding with India. Officials were quoted as saying that Islamabad isn’t worried with New Delhi that has seemingly been sympathetic with the situation in its neighbour that forced President Pervez Musharraf impose 'emergency' last Saturday.
“For them the priority is surely the western flank that has brought them more trouble as of now. With Indo-Pak peace process still on, Islamabad can at least trust its new found camaraderie with New Delhi,” officials said. Latest inputs have shown that the Mangla-based Army Reserve North (ARN) and Multan-based Army Reserve South (ARS) too have been repositioned, said Indian Express newspaper.
“They have been dispatched to Peshawar or Quetta for deployment along the troubled Afghan frontier. Units from the Force Command Northern Area (FCNA) that controls Pakistan’s Azad Kashmir region and forces from the dual-role XI Corps in Peshawar — tasked with defending the Afghan border have also been moved to fight the Taleban,” said the report.
The reports quoting valid details, point out that written instructions were sent by Pakistan Army GHQ to all formation commanders to determine the quantity of forces each unit could relieve for deployment along the Afghan border and even the hinterland. After that a classified list of ‘extra troops’ was drawn up by GHQ based on an internal audit that was carried out by all formations.
Top US-based defence analysts watching developments in India and Pakistan, have warned that this pressure on Pakistani armed forces could lead to an ‘abnormally high percentage of Pakistani troops on active duty’ — a factor that is dangerous, as it can ‘crack open’ the army against President Musharraf himself.
“Intelligence data says that out of the 66 Infantry Brigades (about 1.65 lakh troops) in the Pak army, 33 brigades are currently on active duty. Of these, 18 brigades (45,000 troops) are deployed for counter-terror operations. With half its troops committed to active duty, the army is finding it hard to rotate and relive formations,” said reports.
“It is a major operational constraint. In the event of war, the whole army gets mobilised but in an ideal scenario, one-third of the troops should be on duty, while the rest are in transit or in a peace area. In long term, it will get increasingly difficult to manage the already strained forces,” top officials were quoted as saying.
On this scenario, strategic affairs expert Stephen Cohen has pointed out that “the (Pakistani) army might lose its coherence. It is a multi-ethnic army, derived from the old British Indian army, and from time to time it, like its predecessor, has had ethnic-based mutinies (the most notable being the revolt of the Bengali elements of all three services in 1970).”
“At present, about 18 per cent of the Pakistan army are Pushtuns or of Pushtun-origin. There are reports of officers refusing to attack targets, and the astonishing case, still unexplained, of nearly 300 officers and jawans surrendering to the militants in Waziristan — where they are still being held hostage,” Cohen wrote for Brookings Institution explaining that America was in for a tough ride with developments in Pakistan.