February 2008 News

Troop Cutback Begins In J&K

20 February 2008
Tribune India

Jammu: Ahead of the upcoming Assembly elections in the state, the Congress-led government in the Centre has given in to the demand of its ruling alliance partner in Jammu and Kashmir, People's Democratic Party, by secretly initiating the process of troop reduction from the state. Though the top brass of the Indian army is tightlipped on the issue, but according to sources in the Udhampur-based Northern Command of the Army, an entire division and an artillery brigade of the Army deployed in Naria in Rajouri district is being relocated and attached to the Kolkata-based Eastern Command from where it was earlier sent to J&K during the Kargil conflict. Sources said the Army had received orders from its higher command to relocate the 27 Mountain Division and the 27 Artillery Brigade from Naria in Rajouri to Kalimpong (Siliguri) under the Eastern Command based in Kolkata. The 27 Mountain Division was looking after the counterinsurgency operations in Rajouri sector. The movement of the Army attained more significance following the recent muscle flexing of the People's Liberation Army (PLA) into Bhutan through the Chumbi Valley. Sources in Army headquarters said the Army authorities have taken seriously the objections raised by China over the recent visit of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to Arunachal Pradesh. The 30-km wide Siliguri corridor, which links India with rest of North Eastern states is the weakest point in the Indian defence and if China somehow gains control of the corridor the entire North East region would be cut away from India. Sources in the Udhampur-based Northern Command said the Army is also undergoing war games to keep itself in a state of readiness. According to Army sources more than seven lakh troops are deployed in the state of Jammu and Kashmir and only 40,000 troops are responsible for the defence of Sikkim and the strategically important Siliguri corridor. The Chumbi valley that makes a wedge between Sikkim and Bhutan is a part of Tibet Autonomous region (TAR) and the only border in Chumbi Valley Yatung is held in Sizable strength by the PLA. The Army is worried about any offensive by the PLA to capture North East and north east of Sikkim to deny any launch pad to the Indian army. The move to relocate troops from J&K to Siliguri is seen as a defensive posture of India as the Army lacks infrastructure there. Meanwhile, the local residents of Naria confirmed that they have been witnessing unusual movement in the division headquarter. “Yes, we have been seeing that large number of army troops are moving out of the areas, Army has hired the service of civilian buses and trucks to transport their men and equipments from the headquarter,” said a local resident of Naria village. Meanwhile, the source said that though the ministry of defence has ruled out any form of troop reduction from the Line of Control in J&K, however the number of Rashtriya Rifles troops deployed in the hinterland (interior) of the Kashmir valley could be relocated to deal with the Naxalite problem. The move has come after a recent meeting between PDP president Mehabooba Mufti and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, in which Mehbooba again raised the issue of troop reduction from the state.

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