As tensions rise between India and Pakistan over last month’s terror assault in Mumbai, Pakistan is withdrawing troops from the tribal areas and redeploying to the eastern border with India.
Pakistan’s redeployment of forces from the northwest to the eastern border with India comes as NATO supply lines moving through the region are under a Taliban assault and US forces look to double the number of troops in Afghanistan. The Taliban have taken control of the seven tribal agencies bordering Afghanistan and are in control of or have a strong presence in much of the settled districts of the Northwest Frontier Province. The Taliban have struck NATO supply trucks in Peshawar, the provincial capital. More than 300 NATO trucks have been destroyed at shipping terminals in Peshawar and on the roads in neighboring Khyber agency over the past several weeks.
More than 20,000 Pakistani soldiers from Pakistan’s 14th Army Division are being moved to the cities of Kasur and Sialkot in Punjab province, The Associated Press reported. The eastern cities are close to the Indian border and sit along the projected path of an Indian armored assault into Pakistan. Leave for Pakistani soldiers also has been canceled, intelligence officials told the news agency.
Pakistani forces in the Waziristan region are also reported to be redeploying to the eastern border. A large column of 40 military trucks was spotted heading eastward, an AP reporter in Dera Ismail Khan said.
The 14th Pakistani Army Division was deployed in the Bajaur-Dir region in the insurgency-wracked Northwest Frontier Province along the Afghan border. Elements of the 14th were conducting counterinsurgency operations in the Bajaur tribal agency against the Taliban and al Qaeda.
The 14th Division is part of Pakistan’s XXXI Army Corps based out of Bahawalpur. “The XXXI Corps is the defensive formation assigned to take the brunt of an Indian armored assault,” said Ravi Rikhye, the editor of Orbat.com, a Web site that tracks the order of battle for armed forces throughout the world. Mandeep Singh Bajwa published an order of battle for Pakistani forces fighting counterinsurgency operations in northwestern Pakistan at Orbat.com just days ago. “The II Corps in Multan is assigned to follow up the XXXI Corps holding action and counterattack against invading Indian forces.”
The movement of regular Pakistani Army forces from the Northwest Frontier Province and tribal areas should not be a surprise, Rikhye said, noting that few regular Army forces are engaged in fighting the Taliban. “They largely sit in garrison.” The Pakistani government claims more than 100,000 soldiers have been deployed in the northwest, but the Frontier Corps and other paramilitary units have conducted much of the fighting against the Taliban.
“The Pakistani military does not want to be deployed in the Northwest Frontier Province to fight the Taliban, so if the military pulled them out, it does not surprise me. It is possible they are being reassigned for training, but I do not expect this is happening,” Rikhye said, noting there are only three training locations in Pakistan and this is the time of year forces rotate for training.
The location of another Pakistani division, the 16th, “is currently unknown,” Rikhye said. “If the 16th is in Baluchistan, then the Pakistani military may fear the US and India have stepped up operations to destabilize the province.” It is unknown if the 16th Division has moved eastward. Rikhye said the unit is a “holding” division, just like the 14th.
The 3rd Independent Armored Brigade and the 10th and 11th divisions, all part of IV Corps based in the Lahore region, have also moved to forward positions near the border, The Times of India reported. These units have recently been conducting training exercises. The 10th and 11th Divisions are also holding formations, assigned to absorb and delay an Indian assault. The Pakistani Army is said to be upgrading bunkers and fighting positions along the border with India.
The Pakistani redeployment of Army units to the east is the latest action in an atmosphere of heightened tension over the Nov. 26-28 Mumbai, India, terror assault that lasted more than 60 hours and resulted in more than 170 civilians killed. India has presented evidence that the Pakistan-based al Qaeda and Inter-Service Intelligence agency-linked Lashkar-e-Taiba terror group conducted the attack.
Last week, Indian Air Force fighter planes violated Pakistani air space, while the armed forces of both countries have been put on alert. India has demanded Pakistan hand over 20 “most wanted” terrorists. Pakistan has said it would not extradite anyone to India, opting to try them in Pakistani courts if evidence is presented of their guilt.