Army pullback in Kashmir possible
6 January 2001
The Hindustan Times
Srinagar: THERE COULD be a possibility of the Government ordering Army troops managing internal security in Jammu and Kashmir back to the barracks if the All Party Hurriyat Conference (APHC) can guarantee that militant violence in the state shall cease, perhaps after talks in Pakistan, according to well placed sources. An APHC delegation is to pay a week-long visit to Pakistan from January 15 for talks with extremist groups there on restoring peace in the state, a process that was set in motion with Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee announcing a cease-fire in the state during Ramadan and then extending this by a month till January 26. But the moot question is whether the terrorist groups operating from Pakistan would agree to end their militancy in Jammu and Kashmir, the sources said. Al Badr Mujahadeen, Harkatul Mujahadeen, Jaish-e-Mohammad and Lashker-e-Taiba are some of the groups active in the state that have announced that they will continue their operations in spite of the cease-fire. In fact, Lashker-e-Taiba staged a daring attack on Delhi's Red Fort in which three persons were killed while the Jaish-e-Mohammad mounted a car bomb attack at the headquarters of the Army's 15 Corps in Srinagar in which 11 persons including the car bomber were killed, after the cease-fire went into effect. These groups are, therefore, critical for any lasting solution in the state. This was made more than evident just last August when the Hizbul Mujahideen called a cease-fire and asked the Government to begin a dialogue. But when the Government did respond, the Hizb changed stance and called for tripartite talks that would include Pakistan, a position that was clearly untenable to the Government. This led to the collapse of the truce after two weeks. Should the APHC delegation return with a commitment that militant violence will cease and should there be a kind of reciprocation from New Delhi in ordering troops back to their barracks, it would serve to meet a long-standing demand of Kashmiri separatist groups of all hues as well as the Pakistan government, say the sources. All these groups have persistently asked for reduction of army deployment in Kashmir, whose estimates are not available but which Pakistan has alleged to be an exaggerated 700,000 troops, to create what they call an atmosphere conducive for dialogue to solve the Kashmir issue. The idea that Vajpayee's initiative might just be inching towards fruition gained currency when Pakistan announced on December 2 that its troops stationed along the Line of Control (LoC) would exercise 'maximum restraint'. This was followed on December 20 with the announcement of a partial troop withdrawal. However, Defence Minister George Fernandes has already termed this withdrawal as 'inadequate'. Thereafter, Pakistan said January 5 that it had pulled back 'substantial' numbers of troops from the LoC. After this, there was an indication in Vajpayee's 'musings' from his year-end holiday in Kerala that the government might initiate 'bold and innovative' measures to ensure a future architecture for peace in South Asia. Security forces currently stationed in Kashmir include the Indian Army, the Border Security Force (BSF), the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) and the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP). The special elite counter-insurgency force, the Rashtriya Rifles, raised by the Army, complements their anti-militancy operations.