Friday, January 28, 2011

India 'to cut Kashmir forces by 25%'

NEW DELHI — India plans to reduce its security forces by a quarter in the Himalayan region of Kashmir, an official said Friday.

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 that the government was looking at cutting troops by "25 percent in 12 months from populated areas."

"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," Pillai said.

"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 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 dismissed 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"I will be only satisfied when all the Indian forces stationed in Kashmir are withdrawn," Geelani told AFP.

The intensity of the insurgency, funded by Islamist militant groups in neighbouring 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 neighbours since independence in 1947.

The majority of militant groups active in the Indian-administered part of the region favour its secession from India to neighbouring 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.

AFP: India 'to cut Kashmir forces by 25%'


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