Omar Favours Pre-1989 Era Troop Levels In J-K

9 June 2009
The Indian Express

London: Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah favours troop levels in the state to be reduced to numbers that existed prior to 1989, but says the Centre can't undertake this presently with upswing in infiltration attempts. 'The first step is to reduce their (army) visibility and the second step is to start reducing numbers,' Abdullah said asserting 'and it will happen'. 'I would be satisfied with a troop level that existed prior to 1989. The response I've got from the defence minister, home minister - I think they understand the need to balance peoples' requirements,' Abdullah said in an interview to London-based ‘Financial Times’. This is the first comment by Omar Abdullah on possible reduction of troops from the state, which is the demand being made by major opposition and separatist groups in the state. Though army refuses to divulge the numbers of troops citing security reasons, according to estimates the army had deployed more than two Corps in the state prior to 1989, the year the militancy took a serious turn in the Valley. Making public his views on issues like resumption of Indo-Pak dialogue, Abdullah said he believes New Delhi needs to be more pro-active and should go ahead on talks with the new democratic set up in Islamabad. But, at the same time Abdullah said Pakistan has to play its part as well to meet India's concern expressed in the aftermath of the Mumbai terror attacks. However, Abdullah dwelt much of the time on the troops withdrawal issue, saying it can not be undertaken in immediate context as there had been numerous attempts in March and April this year to infiltrate large batches of militants from across the Line of Control (LoC). 'It was an apparent attempt to make their presence felt during the elections. But that hasn't happened,' he said. 'Clearly you cannot expect the Government of India to withdraw the troops in the kind of numbers that is being suggested with the attempts at infiltration into Kashmir being what they are,' the youngest-ever chief minister of the state said. 'We've had very serious attempts of infiltration in March and April of this year and that obviously remains a concern. Levels of tension between India and Pakistan determine troop placements as well.' Asked whether the infiltrators were stopped, he said: 'Some made their way through; some were turned back at the line of control itself, and some were killed in encounters with the security forces. So it's been a mixed bag of results... There is speculation that there was one group of 100 plus (militants) that came in...all the way through... at a time when the passes were still covered in snow, and some of our posts had yet to be retaken after the winter vacation.' 'They took advantage of that situation, came in very well equipped with cold weather gear, GPS equipment etc... We were concerned they would make their presence felt during the elections, but that hasn't happened. 'Fortunately, over the years, our intelligence gathering has gotten stronger, we are able to gather much better quality of human intelligence which allows us to neutralize these threats before they become a serious problem for us,' Abdullah said. On the support militants received locally in Jammu and Kashmir, he said, 'There are pockets of support, where support is given voluntarily. There are areas where support is encouraged by local over-ground workers, and some areas where support is forced through fear of a barrel of a gun. 'What has changed for us is that earlier where support was given, or support was taken, the people who were forced to do this would keep quiet. Now, no sooner have these people left and move on we do get information to our local police and other sources and we are able to take corrective steps. This availability of local intelligence wasn't there earlier, so that is a significant change.' Asked whether Congress-led UPA which has been returned to power has an opportunity to resolve the Kashmir issue, the chief minister said: 'we are looking for greater stability across the border and the Line of Control. That would help. At one point, a month or two ago, it looked much worse in Islamabad than it does now. Let’s see. Hopefully.' He hoped that in the coming five years, Kashmir – both internationally and domestically - would receive the due focus of Dr Manmohan Singh's Government. Asked what kind of small steps that could help improve the situation, he said: 'That's less to do with the dialogue process and more to do with what my government can deliver -improve road network, better power supply, better health delivery at the primary and secondary levels. 'These are some of the things we are going to be working with the Government of India to deliver... Internationally, its rebuilding that confidence in the dialogue process.' Abdullah said his party, the National Conference, believed the autonomous position of Jammu and Kashmir has to e strengthened, not weakened. 'I'd like to believe you will see a significant improvement in terms of the political space available, the security environment that prevails, the human rights record... most of the parameters that people use to define normality,' he added.