India announces 25 percent troop reduction in Kashmir; Army demurs (Second Intro Roundup)

Last Updated: Fri, Jan 14, 2011 16:30 hrs

New Delhi, Jan 14 (IANS) A quarter of the security forces in Jammu and Kashmir will be cut in the next 12 months, Home Secretary G.K. Pillai said Friday in what was seen as a major confidence-building measure towards the people of the conflict-scarred state as well as Pakistan. The Indian Army, however, ruled out any reductions in the number of military personnel.

'There will be a 25 percent reduction of security forces in Jammu and Kashmir, especially from populated areas, in the next 12 months,' Pillai said at a symposium on 'What is the way forward in Jammu and Kashmir' organised by the Jamia Millia Islamia university.

He said this was being done so 'that people don't get harassed by the over-presence of security forces'.

The Indian Army was quick to record its dissent.

'In what context the home ministry has talked of forces reduction, I will not like to comment. In the future, if they want to reduce the paramilitary force, I would not like to say anything,' the Indian Army chief, General V.K. Singh said at the annual Army Day-eve press conference.

'But, with regard to the army, we have deployed troops after analysing our requirements on the border and the Line of Control (with Pakisttan). Similarly, in the interior areas, to maintain peace and carry out operations against the militants, we have some troops. As of now, we do not feel we should reduce the numbers,' Singh added.

According to Pillai, the government wished 'to do more' in terms of troop reduction, a popular demand of various mainstream and separatist political parties but is opposed by the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Pakistan had also been calling for troop reduction in Kashmir as part of the larger reconciliation process between the two countries in which Kashmir remains a major dispute.

The proposal to reduce the presence of security forces in the conflict-riven state comes after over 100 days of summer unrest - which started in June 2010 and claimed more than 100 lives - cooled down following official promises of a political solution.

The government had last year withdrawn nearly 35,000 security personnel from the state but the process was halted following reports of militant incursions from Pakistan, which lays claims to Jammu and Kashmir and rules about one-third of the onetime princely state's territory under its occupation.

Pillai said the government was also considering giving Pakistani Kashmiris six-month multiple entry permits to visit their relatives in Jammu and Kashmir. At present, Pakistani Kashmiris get a 15-day single entry permit to travel in a bus service between Srinagar and Muzaffarabad, the capital of Pakistan-administered Kashmir.

'We will do it unilaterally. People from there (Pakistani Kashmir) can have multiple entry one permit (to travel to Jammu and Kashmir) so that they don't have to re-apply whenever they want to visit their divided families again,' Pillai said. He added that Pakistan had shot down the proposal.

Pillai also said Pakistan was a 'problem' in resolving the Kashmir issue but 'vested interests' in India were also hampering a final solution.

'Pakistan may not be interested (in settling the Kashmir issue forever) but there are vested interests within the country who don't want it to be settled,' Pillai said at a seminar, 'What is the way forward in Jammu and Kashmir', organised by the Jamia Millia Islamia University here.

'Whether it is politicians, security forces or any section of the society, each one has developed vested interests, Pakistan is a problem but we have problems with the country itself,' the home secretary added.

He put the onus of a decision on the withdrawal of the controversial Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), which gives impunity to armed forces in their anti-terror operations, on the state government.

'Why cannot the state government take a decision, take a leap of faith and notify that all of Jammu and Kashmir or parts of it are not disturbed now? The Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFPSA) applies to the areas which state governments notify as disturbed. If the area is no longer disturbed, the AFSPA doesn't apply,' he said.

The revocation of the AFSPA is a popular demand of Kashmiri politicians, including the ruling National Conference, to assuage the hurt feelings of the people of the state following accusations that the armed forces have misused the powers and committed human rights violations in the garb of collateral damage during anti-militancy operations.

The home secretary said the government was waiting for the final report from the interlocutors who have spoken to about 100 groups and 'the people whose voices were unheard' in the last few months to find a political solution to the 60-year-old issue. The report is expected this April.

'Interlocutors are telling us that you need CBMs (confidence building measures) and you also need a political solution (which) should be peaceful and acceptable to all the regions (Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh). Democracy and rule of law should prevail and the solution should respect the diversity, ethnicity and all faiths.'



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