NEW DELHI, India: India and Pakistan agreed to a timetable for a partial withdrawal of newly deployed army troops on their border, easing a two-week old crisis.

The accord came after five days of talks as 340,000 heavily armed soldiers faced each other along a 250mile stretch of the north central border.

The buildup in recent weeks seemed to take on a momentum that neither side could halt. The two nations, which deeply distrust each other and have fought three wars in the last 40 years, each vowed not to be the first to attack, but each sent more and more men into the border area as a precaution.

The buildup was accompanied by a barrage of threats by senior Indian and Pakistani leaders even as officials, diplomats and other analysts agreed that there was no reason for either side to fight.

“It is all very scary, and it’s a measure of how far India and Pakistan have to go to learn to live with each other,” a Western diplomat said. Like others, he said the greatest threat lay in an accidental start of hostilities.

The accord fell short of ending the crisis, since it called for a selective withdrawal of 60,000 to 80,000 troops on each side in a small area of Kashmir, near the Indian city of Jammu.

This would leave large numbers of troops facing each other in the area of Punjab State, where New Delhi has long maintained that Pakistan has aided Sikhs on the Indian side.

The partial withdrawal is to be carried’ out over the next 15 days, with further negotiations to take place in Pakistan on withdrawing the rest. Indian officials said that further withdrawals probably could not be completed until the end of March.

In the agreement, India and Pakistan repeated their pledges not to attack each other, and they also agreed to “exercise the maximum restraint and to avoid all provocative actions along the border”.

Indian and Pakistani leaders hailed the agreement even though it was limited. Alfred Gonsalves, an Indian Foreign Secretary and his country’s chief negotiator, said Pakistan had been reassured about India’s intentions.

And Humayun Khan, the Pakistani Ambassador to India, said “it was a question of mutual reassurances” since each side felt provoked by the other. “This will be generally welcomed as a relief by the people of Pakistan and India”, he said.

The India Pakistan border has always been heavily guarded by troops. The latest controversy began in November when India started an unusually large and long running series of troop maneuvers, known as Operation Brass Tacks, in the Rajasthan desert in the southern border region.

Lieut. Gen. K.K. Hazari, the army’s deputy chief of staff, said that the operation involved only a “marginally bigger” deployment of troops than any previous exercise. But an independent military analyst disagreed, saying it included at least 150,000 men, or twice as many as the most recent such exercise three years ago.


The Hindusan Times also reported this week that the final phase of Operation Brass Tack this month and next involved mock preparations for an invasion of Sind province in Pakistan, and that this especially alarmed the Pakistanis, and several in Sind province voiced fears of an Indian invasion.

Issue Raised at Talks

Prime Minister Mohammad  Khan Junejo of Pakistan raised the issue with Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi of India at a summit meeting of South Asian leaders in Bangalore, India. In November. Afterwards, both Mr. Junejo and President Mohammad ZiaulHaq sought to assure Pakistanis that there was no threat.

But apparently as a precaution, Pakistan in early January moved army divisions to the border area in the north, along with tanks and artillery. Civilians were reported evacuated from the areas and mine laid.

This in turn spread alarm in India, since Indian troops had moved out of these northern areas to take part in Operation Brass Tacks. Beginning on Jan. 23, India moved reinforcements into the unprotected zones, placed its army and air force on alert, evacuated civilians and laid mines.

“The whole thing has obviously gone out of control”, a retired Indian diplomat said. “Which side started this game of the chicken and the e.g. One thing is certain, this never should have happened.”

Indian officials said a key part of the accord was that India would proceed with the last phase of Operation Brass Tacks through next month. Mr. Gonsalves denied press reports that Pakistan had demanded that the Operation be curtailed or cancelled.

With the Indian maneuvers continuing, the agreement permitted Pakistan to keep its troops and armor deployed in the Punjab area as a precaution. These forces are not expected to be withdrawn until the Indian exercise is completed in March.

An air of drama and uncertainty surrounded this week’s talks, which began on Saturday. Abdul Sattar, the Pakistani Foreign Secretary, led his country’s delegation. He also met with senior Indian military officials and flew back to Pakistan without making any comment here.

Analysts in both India and Pakistan saw the crisis as deriving at least partly from politics. Prime Minister Junejo and President Zia were seen as responding to rising fears of an invasion by India, as well as general criticism among Pakistanis that law and order had deteriorated in Karachi and in Sind Province.

Prime Minister Gandhi, on the other hand, was described by many newspaper editorials here as eager to demonstrate a firm hand as elections approach next month in several states, including, Haryana, near the Pakistan border.

Seen as Signal to Punjab

In addition, some saw Mr. Gandhi’s action as a signal to Punjab that the army was ready to go into the state to stop killings as it did in 1984.

An added complication was that Mr. Gandhi used the crisis in late January to remove his highly regarded Finance Minister, V.P. Singh, and make him Defense Minister. Several commentators said the Prime Minister had been looking for a pretext to shift Mr. Singh because as Finance Minister he had alienated many prominent businessmen by ordering a series of tax evasion raids.

India Today, the country’s leading news magazine, said all this speculation was a measure of a “perceptible drop in the Government’s credibility”.

Article extracted from this publication >>  February 13, 1987