India, Pakistan Alert Border Troops, New Indian Defense Minister
NEW DELHI, India (AP) _ Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi appointed a new defense minister in a surprise move Saturday as India’s army was put on alert because of a Pakistani troop buildup at the border.
Officials of both countries said Saturday they do not want a confrontation, and that their troop concentrations were protective steps because of actions by their neighbor.
India and Pakistan have fought three wars since gaining their independence from Britain in 1947. The last war was fought in 1971 and saw the dismemberment of Pakistan and creation of Bangladesh, formerly East Pakistan.
Gandhi appointed Vishwanath Pratap Singh, 56, who held the finance portfolio, as defense minister, according to a government statement. It did not give a reason for the appointment. Gandhi has held the defense portfolio as well as being prime minister.
Pakistan’s ambassador, M. Humayun Khan, told a news conference there was ″absolutely no question of Pakistan wishing to initiate a military conflict with India.″
Indian government spokesman G. Parthasarathy said, ″India will not attack Pakistan, we firmly believe that all issues between the two countries should be resolved peacefully through dialogue and discussions.″
India had said it was moving army units to the Punjab state’s border with Pakistan because of a concentration of Pakistani troops. The states of Punjab, Jammu and Kashmir, Rajasthan and Gujarat run along the 1,836-mile border with Pakistan.
Gandhi, who held an emergency Cabinet session, was quoted by one official as saying he considered the frontier situation ″alarming.″
″The entire Cabinet was concerned, they looked worried,″ the official said, speaking on condition he not be identified.
India’s 1.1 million-member armed forces number more than double Pakistan’s 478,600 troops,
India and Pakistan have been accusing each other of escalating tensions since the Indian army began exercises late last year.
Tensions also have been raised by India’s accusations that Pakistan is aiding Sikh extremists fighting for a separate state in Punjab and by New Delhi’s fear that Pakistan may be developping atomic weapons.
In Islamabad, a Foreign Ministry official who briefed reporters on condition of anonymity said Pakistani forces along the border are taking ″minimal″ defensive precautions because India had concentrated more than 200,000 troops in key sectors.
″The presence of such large Indian forces so close to Pakistan’s border give India a capacity for aggression that could not possibly be ignored by the government of Pakistan. Therefore Pakistan was obliged to take some minimal defense precautions,″ the spokesman said.
Pakistani Prime Minister Mohammad Khan Junejo told reporters during a visit Saturday to the northern city of Peshawar that the Indian troop movements were unwarranted. He said Pakistan desired peace in the region, but was determined to defend itself.
Junejo said he saw no ″straightaway danger at present.″
Pakistani officials said a special joint session of the National Assembly and the Senate was called for Sunday to consider the situation, with the prime minister addressing it.
The Foreign Ministry spokesman declined to provide details on the precautions taken by the Pakistani armed forces or say how many soldiers the army had along the border.
An Indian Defense Ministry official on Friday appealed to Pakistan to reduce tensions by withdrawing troops.