Discussions on troop reduction to continue: Mufti
22 March 2007
Indo-Asian News Service
New Delhi: The crisis facing Jammu and Kashmir's coalition government seems to have been averted for now with People's Democratic Party (PDP) patron Mufti Mohammed Sayeed Thursday stating that discussions on reduction of troops from civilian areas and repeal of anti-terror laws would continue.Sayeed, who had a 90-minute luncheon meeting with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, said: 'We are not demanding de- militarisation but a cut in troop levels. The people need relief and I will meet the prime minister again.' The former state chief minister had a day earlier claimed, 'every day counts (on issue of troop withdrawal)', and termed the differences with the Congress as 'very serious'.While refusing to divulge the nature of deliberations and if the prime minister had acceded to the PDP's demands, Sayeed pointed out that further discussions would be necessary to arrive at a solution.Sources in the Prime Minister's Office hinted that the government could contemplate setting up of a committee to go into the issue of reduction of troops and their possible phasing out in the summer months if the ground situation improved.'The healing-touch policy has to continue. If civic elections saw a record participation of 77 percent of the electorate and if violence levels and infiltration has come down, then surely we must do something for the people,' Sayeed maintained.'Even the Army Chief, General J.J. Singh, just recently asserted that there are no more than 1,500 militants in the Kashmir Valley and the state Chief Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad told the assembly that the ground situation has improved vastly.'The PDP's relations with its ally, the Congress, had reached a flashpoint in recent weeks with the party boycotting three consecutive cabinet meetings and threatening to pull out of the coalition if its demands were not met.The PDP has been demanding reduction of troops from civilian areas, repeal of anti-terror laws and withdrawal of security forces from civilian properties such as orchards and educational institutions.Following his meetings with Manmohan Singh and with National Security Advisor M.K. Narayanan a day earlier, Mufti's remarks seem to indicate that he has bought time on his party's demands. Azad had categorically turned down the PDP demand stating that the time was not opportune for a cut in troop levels.