Saturday, January 15, 2011

India To Cut Kashmir Forces By 25 percent

NEW DELHI - India plans to reduce its security forces by a quarter in the Himalayan region of Kashmir to ease conditions for people in one of the world's most militarized areas, a top official said Jan 14.
The unexpected announcement on Kashmir by Home Secretary G.K. Pillai is intended to rebuild fractured public goodwill after a violent uprising by young people in the Muslim-majority region last year.
New Delhi faced one of the biggest challenges to its grip on the divided and disputed territory last summer when more than 100 people were shot dead by security forces during violent demonstrations.
Speaking at a university seminar on Kashmir in the Indian capital, Pillai said the aim was "to pull out 25 percent of troops from populated areas in the next 12 months as a confidence-building measure."
He added: "If we can manage with local police, that would be the most ideal situation, and this is one of the confidence-building measures - that people don't get harassed by the over-presence of security forces.
"If peace comes, if violence is not there, people are comfortable, we can gradually reduce our presence and make sure that all forces are there only at the border for preventing infiltration."
The presence of hundreds of thousands of paramilitary and army troops in Kashmir - India does not disclose official troop figures - is seen by local politicians and observers as fuelling anger against rule from New Delhi.
The drawdown signals that New Delhi's focus has shifted away from fighting an Islamist insurgency in Kashmir that raged for 20 years and claimed more than 47,000 lives, according to an official count.
Deaths due to the violence are at their lowest level in more than a decade.
Hardline Kashmiri separatist leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani rejected the government's plan and demanded the full withdrawal of Indian forces from the region.
"I will be only satisfied when all the Indian forces stationed in Kashmir are withdrawn," he told AFP.
"The Indian government is always trying to fool Kashmiris by promising troop withdrawals but nothing changes on the ground. Violence and injustice continues in the valley."
Residents of Kashmir who spoke to AFP in the main city Srinagar had a mixed response to the withdrawal plan.
Farooq Ahmed Butt, a schoolteacher, said: "This is a positive step as it will pave way in building a conducive atmosphere for resolution of the Kashmir issue."
But others dismissed the announcement as too little.
"The Kashmir issue cannot be resolved by a 25-percent troop reduction.
Complete withdrawal is what is needed," said Tahir Ahmed Qadri, 50, a shopkeeper.
The intensity of the insurgency, funded by Islamist militant groups in neighboring Pakistan, has declined since India and Pakistan started a peace process in 2004 to resolve all pending disputes including Kashmir.
The region is split between the two countries along a UN-monitored line of control and has been the trigger for two of the three wars fought between the neighbors since independence in 1947.
The majority of militant groups active in the Indian-administered part of the region favor its secession from India to neighboring Pakistan.
In December 2009, the Indian army said it had pulled out 30,000 troops from Kashmir, one of the biggest military drawdowns in a decade.

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