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U.S. wants India to de-escalate on border with Pakistan

Siddharth Varadarajan



Richard Holbrooke

New Delhi: South Block may have successfully fought off the initial drive to formally extend Richard Holbrooke’s ‘AfPak’ mandate to India but the Obama administration’s Special Representative for the region drew first blood last week, asking New Delhi to draw down its own troop presence on the Pakistan border so that Islamabad can beef up its presence on the Afghan front.

The request that India de-escalate its forces on the border was conveyed to Foreign Secretary Shiv Shankar Menon during the latter’s visit to Washington last week, well-placed sources said.

In response, India told the U.S. that any escalation which had taken place on the border in the wake of last November’s terrorist attacks in Mumbai was entirely on the Pakistani side. Mr. Holbrooke was also told that India had not deployed additional forces that could now be withdrawn to other locations.

Indian officials believe the redeployment of Pakistani troops to the Indian border in December 2008 was prompted by the military establishment’s desire to talk up the prospect of war with India and thereby divert attention from the complicity of Pakistani elements in the Mumbai incidents. The Obama administration was thus told that Pakistan’s unwillingness to revert to the pre-Mumbai troop deployment pattern had nothing to do with any increased military threat from India.

Though there has been no major redeployment of Indian troops to the border, the Army did extend the duration of its winter exercises in December, in part as a contingency for any unexpected developments.

But the situation now, say officials, is completely normal on the Indian side.

A number of American officials and analysts have made a link between tension on the India-Pakistan border and the war in Afghanistan. Last year, Barnett Rubin and Ahmed Rashid wrote an article in Foreign Affairs proposing a grand bargain aimed at incentivising greater Pakistani contribution to the Afghan war by offering a more sustained international effort at resolving the Kashmir dispute with India in exchange. Both Mr. Rubin and Mr. Rashid have reportedly been hired as advisers by Mr. Holbrooke.

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