Kashmir Violence Falls To Record Low: Police
12 July 2007
Srinagar: The average daily death toll from insurgency-related violence in Indian Kashmir has fallen to its lowest level since the revolt began nearly 18 years ago, officials said yesterday. Daily killings have dropped to two from ten in 2001 and a peak of 13 in 1996 when the revolt was at its height with daily bomb explosions, gunbattles and ambushes, according to official police records in Indian Kashmir. 'Violence has fallen to an all-time low since 1989,' said a police officer, who asked not to be named, referring to the year when the separatist revolt began in the Muslim-majority Himalayan region. The fall in daily deaths comes against the backdrop of a slow-moving peace process between nuclear-armed Pakistan and India, each of which hold the region in part and claim it in full. Indian officials also attribute the drop to India's fencing of the border between the two countries and what Indian officials say are more effective counter-insurgency tactics. The insurgency has left more than 42,000 people dead, according to official figures. Human rights groups put the toll at 70,000, including 10,000 people who have disappeared and are presumed dead. Despite the easing of violence, Indian Kashmir Chief Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad said he opposed any reduction in Indian troop levels in the state. 'Although the incidents of violence and militancy are on the decline it is not wise to lower our guard,' Azad said in a statement. Azad said the number of troops would be 'automatically reduced and troops would go to the barracks once the situation was completely under control.' He said his Congress government 'was trying to bring back the situation to the level of 1987-88' when Kashmir was at peace and hundreds of thousands of people visited the state, often called 'The Switzerland of the East' for its impressive peaks and verdant valleys. Azad's coalition partner in Indian Kashmir, the People's Democratic Party, has called for a reduction in troops in the region, saying their presence is a major irritant for Kashmiris. Azad and security officials, however, say lowering troop levels would help Islamic militants regroup. Some Indian security officials believe the fall in violence is a rebel bid to make Indian forces lower their guard. India has an estimated half million troops and paramilitary soldiers in Kashmir, which has triggered two wars between India and Pakistan since their independence in 1947. India has set up a panel to review the possibility of troop cuts in Kashmir. At the same time, the chief minister urged Indian troops to speedily vacate private houses and state-owned offices they are occupying. Hundreds of private homes, government buildings and lands are occupied by security forces although no exact figures are available. The forces pay minimal rents and many owners complain those are not paid. 'The security forces should make their own arrangements on a war footing and vacate private houses and (state) government installations so the facilities can be used for the purpose intended,' Azad said.