Pakistan promises to withdraw troops

U.S. officials welcome 'peacetime' move

? Pakistan matched rival India in pledging to withdraw hundreds of thousands of troops from their border Thursday, beginning a mutual stand-down after months of heightened tension that brought the South Asian nuclear neighbors to the brink of war.

The government said soldiers would be pulled back to “peacetime locations,” and the withdrawal would begin soon. The moves were welcomed in Washington, which considers both countries allies and has sent diplomats to the region to try to defuse the situation.

More than 1 million troops are faced off along the 1,800-mile border, and the two countries nearly went to war in June, raising fears that a conflict between the nuclear-armed foes could spiral out of control.

The Foreign Ministry said the decision was made after a meeting led by President Pervez Musharraf.

“The government of Pakistan has decided to withdraw its forces from the Pakistan-India border to their peacetime locations,” the Foreign Ministry said. “The pullback will commence shortly.”

A senior Pakistani defense official said the armed forces would withdraw 90 percent of the troops. He said the pullback would occur in phases, the speed of which depended on the progress of India’s withdrawal. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the army had sent 400,000 to 500,000 troops to the border, “but now we will be withdrawing them.”

“It’s welcome news,” U.S. Embassy spokesman Terry White said.

However, a spokesman for India’s Foreign Ministry, Navtej Sarna, said Pakistan’s decision was not enough to lead to formal discussions.

“What is needed to start a dialogue with Pakistan is a complete and visible end to cross-border terrorism, and we have seen no change in this,” Sarna said.