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PM announces Diwali peacemeal

Josy Joseph

Thursday 11 November 2004, by JOSEPH*Josy

NEW DELHI: Prime minister’s historic initiative to reduce troops in Jammu and Kashmir would see thinning of Army in some sections of Jammu and a few interior areas of Kashmir Valley, according to initial indications available from Army sources.

The step has surprised the Indian Army and other government agencies while putting the onus on Pakistan and separatists to take the next big step in moving towards a Kashmir solution.

Dr Manmohan Singh’s unilateral decision to reduce troops in Jammu and Kashmir has been one of the major demands of both Pakistan and separatists for years. But no government in New Delhi, including that of Atal Bihari Vajpayee, had been able to take the drastic step ever since militancy erupted in 1989, sucking the Army into it in a few years time. Today Indian Army has anywhere between 200,000 to half a million of its fighting force in Jammu and Kashmir, many of them in the Rashtriya Rifles, a paramilitary force comprising just Army soldiers.

Though Army is yet to work out the details of Prime Minister’s decision, sources indicate that they won’t touch the troop deployment of Leh-based 14 Corps. Other two Corps in Jammu and Kashmir are the Nagrota-based 16 Corps responsible for Jammu and 15 Corps based in Srinagar and responsible for the Valley.

The 14 Corps based in Leh was raised after Kargil war of 1999 and is responsible for security of the entire Kargil stretch of Line of Control and Siachen sector. The entire Corps has already been deployed for winter, according to the deployment pattern in place in the wake of Kargil war and it is almost impossible to make any changes to it, say Army sources.

Where the possibility of troop reduction exist is in Kashmir Valley and Jammu. The basic reduction would be from the interiors, says a senior Army officer. He said in the Kashmir Valley, the 15 Corps could pull out of certain areas close to urban centres. While maintaining the vigil along the LOC in the Valley it may be possible to reduce troops from certain interior locations, says another of Army’s Kashmir veterans. He points out that after 1999 there has been a layering effect, of units bulging out with massive security apparatus for protecting their own bases, due to large number of suicide attacks targeted against them. That flab can be cut, he argues.

An Army officer in Jammu says the 16 Corps, biggest in Indian Army and larger than Armies of some developed nations, can definitely be trimmed. The Army already has a plan in place to split the 16 Corps, but the plan had not foreseen an immediate trimming of troops in Jammu and Kashmir. Army sources said some units from 16 Corps could be moved out of Jammu to next door Punjab.

Army sources are unanimous in saying one thing: that the Army deployed along the entire border (International Border in Jammu, Line of Control Jammu and Kashmir Valley, and Actual Ground Position Line in Siachen sector) won’t be touched. As much has been said in Prime Minister’s statement too.

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