Counter-terrorism forces in Kashmir not reduced
9 February 2006
Srinagar: Despite an official announcement that some 5,000 soldiers have been pulled out of Jammu and Kashmir, there has been no reduction in the number of troops committed to counter-terrorism duties, highly placed sources have told The Hindu . On Monday, Defence Minister Pranab Mukherjee and Chief of the Army Staff J.J. Singh told journalists that a brigade-sized formation had been relocated from Jammu and Kashmir to the northeast. However, The Hindu has found that new Rashtriya Rifles battalions were moved into the State prior to this withdrawal, ensuring that there is no degradation of forces available for counter-terrorism operations. Line of Control Most of the troop cut announced on Monday was made up of the 73 Mountain Brigade, which had been moved in the midst of the Kargil war to Nariyan, near the Line of Control at Naushera in Rajouri district. Troops from this brigade subsequently undertook counter-terrorism duties in the fraught Thana Mandi and Kandi belt, and were also moved north to Pahalgam in 2000 to protect the Amarnath Yatra. The sources said the 73 Mountain Brigade had over a month ago completed relocating to its home position in Manipur, where it serves as part of the Kalimpong-based 27 Infantry Division. The last elements of the brigade left Nariyan three weeks ago, after handing over charge of their headquarters infrastructure to the Romeo Force, the Rashtriya Rifles counter-terrorism formation responsible for Rajouri and Poonch. New battalions In place of the 73 Mountain Brigade, the Army pumped in two new Rashtriya Rifles battalions, which are now working under the command of the Romeo Force in the Thana Mandi- Kandi area. Unlike a typical infantry battalion, which is made up of four companies of 125 men each, Rashtriya Rifles battalions have six companies. As such, simple arithmetic makes clear that there has been no reduction in the force levels in Rajouri. However, Rashtriya Rifles battalions more closely resemble their counterparts in paramilitary organisations such as the Border Security Force than a conventional military formation. Paid for by the Union Home Ministry, the Rashtriya Rifles battalions operate without organic components of resources such as artillery. Committed to and organised for policing, these battalions hold out no offensive threat to Pakistani forces. Analysts believe that the troop reduction announcement was dictated by foreign policy imperatives. In recent months, Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf has repeatedly called for demilitarisation of Jammu and Kashmir. The United States wanted India to make at least a token concession to its ally, who is under growing assault from regional groups, Islamists and hawks within the Pakistan Army itself. Strategists not happy However, Indian military strategists were less than happy at the idea of force cut. Just last month, Gen. Singh noted that that cross- border 'infiltration continues unabated.' In 1999, the forced removal of 56 battalions from counter-terrorism duties had resulted in a significant escalation in terrorist violence, as had the decision of the Prime Minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, to terminate offensive operations in 2000-2001.