Heightened tension between India and Pakistan, caused by turmoil in the Indian province of Kashmir, may be easing somewhat after India withdrew an armored division from a key area along the border between the two nations, diplomatic sources here said yesterday.

India Embassy spokesman R.R. Dayakara said India this week withdrew the division from an area south of the Punjab -- a likely staging area for any military move against Pakistan.

He called the move "a very substantial gesture, and a unilateral one initiated by India to lessen tensions."

A Pakistani official here, speaking on the condition he not be identified, said there is "unofficial confirmation on our side that there is {military} movement" in that area. "Once it is absolutely confirmed, then it would be certainly reciprocated. It is very welcome news, if confirmed," he said.

"Our unofficial assessment is that this is aimed to coincide with the summit and show the two leaders that India does not have warlike intentions," the Pakistani official said. "If they pull back, we have no intention to keep our forces there."

U.S. officials reacted positively to the Indian move, although they cautioned that the movement could be part of a normal rotation of forces or the result of a need to move armored units back from the desert area, where temperatures are well over 100 degrees. The area is used by the Indian army for training during the winter and spring, U.S. officials said. Pakistan had been increasingly concerned, however, that the division was not pulled back when it normally would have been.

"It is good news if it happened," especially if it was a deliberate gesture, "and was not something that was going to happen anyway," a senior U.S. official said. "Any step that is taken with the intent to lower tensions is welcome," he said, adding that the administration was treating it seriously and hoping for a response from Pakistan.

"We called on both sides to lower the rhetoric and to take actions that would de-escalate the tensions caused by rhetoric and troop movements. To the extent that this is such an action, this is a significant movement in the right direction."

U.S. officials have expressed increased concern in recent months over the latest wave of violence in Kashmir, India's only state with a majority Moslem population. India, which is mainly Hindu, has controlled Kashmir since the India and Pakistan gained independence in 1947, but religious differences have led to three wars between them since then.

Violence by Moslem militants demanding separation from India, along with recent belligerent statements by leading politicians on both sides threaten to trigger renewed fighting between the two nations.

President Bush two weeks ago sent his deputy national security adviser, Robert M. Gates, to India and Pakistan to urge the leaders of the two countries to seek a peaceful solution to the situation.

U.S. officials believe this crisis is substantially different, and more dangerous, than prior conflicts because it is sparked not only by political differences between the two countries but by the volatile situation in Kashmir. Kashmiri separatists in December launched mass demonstrations and kidnappings. More than 350 civilians have been killed in the turmoil this year and thousands have been detained and arrested.

Both countries are believed to be capable of exploding a nuclear device, raising concerns that a war could spur nuclear weapons development on the subcontinent.