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Valley forces wait and watch

Friday 12 November 2004, by PANDIT*Rajat , VED*Mahendra

NEW DELHI: The security forces are neither enthused, nor worried, about the reduction of troops in Jammu and Kashmir, announced by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

They realise the government wants to generate the right atmospherics to promote the peace process both within Jammu and Kashmir and with Pakistan, and are confident that it would not be at the cost of their concerns.

The decision stems from the assessment of the ground situation that indicates a 21% reduction in the number of terrorist incidents during the first nine months of this year compared to the same period in 2003.

In terms of tactics, winter is just the right season to announce reduction in troops. For one, the mountain passes along the "traditional" infiltration routes become blocked with snow from November to April and the usual three-tier troop deployment along the the volatile Line of Control is not required.

For another, militant activity in the winters, with their manpower and supply lines choked off, usually comes down. No wonder, the 1.13-million strong Army, which has over four lakh soldiers deployed in J&K, is unfazed about the PM’s directive.

"With the fence along the border, coupled with sophisticated surveillance devices, infiltration has already been controlled to a large extent. Moreover, targetted operations has brought the number of militants in the hinterland to 2,000 from 3,500," said an Army officer.

"Normally, we move many battalions back from the LoC to the hinterland for consolidated operations against the militants during this time. Reducing a couple of battalions from here or there will not affect the operations," he added.

While both the military and civilian brass would have to work out the details of redeployment, the decision to reduce troops on the border might mean a greater role for the Border Security Force.

There is a firm realisation that Pakistan’s military machine has had no sudden change of heart. Ditto for Pakistan’s intelligence network. The two together retain the capacity to step up infiltration at will. Pakistan has also not dismantled the terrorist camps in Pak-occupied-Kashmir, nor has it stopped training and nurturing insurgents.

Although not in so many words, this has been enunciated by the PM himself in his announcement when he said India would redeploy troops if the circumstances demanded. Security experts say that the caveat is dictated by Pakistan’s track record.

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