December 2003 News

Delhi reduces troop presence in Kashmir

30 December 2003
The Dawn
M. Ziauddin

NEW DELHI: New Delhi has considerably reduced its military presence in the Indian-held Kashmir since Nov 25, informed sources told Dawn here on Tuesday. They did not rule out the possibility of a one-to-one meeting between President Gen Pervez Musharraf and Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee on the side-lines of the 12th South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (Saarc) summit in Islamabad on Jan 4-6. 'Unannounced pullout of regular army has been going on since the unilateral cease fire announcement by your prime minister,' said the sources. From next month, the Indian Border Security Force deployed for internal security in the occupied valley is expected to be withdrawn and redeployed on the borders, the sources said. Meanwhile, they expect the Central Reserve Police and the regular police of the state to take over the job of security inside the held valley in due course of time. 'In September, there were 30 interdictions - almost one every day - but in October these were reduced to only two in the whole month,' the sources said, referring to what the Indians call encounters between Indian security forces and Kashmiri militants across the Line of Control (LoC). The announcement by Pakistan that Kashmir issue will not be raised during the Saarc summit is said to have persuaded Mr Vajpayee to withdraw his reluctance to meet President Musharraf. 'If Pakistan does not raise the issue of restructuring the Saarc charter to facilitate discussions on bilateral issues, then perhaps, the Indian prime minister will have no objections at all to a meeting with president Musharraf,' sources who are known to know Mr Vajpayee's mind said. The general feeling here, however, is that any meeting between the Indian prime minister and the Pakistani president will only distract the focus from the Saarc summit and also make it appear as if an India-Pakistan summit has taken place, which the Indian government wants very badly to avoid as much as it can. 'We fear such a meeting will overshadow the Saarc summit,' said a senior Indian media person. Despite efforts to keep the Saarc summit from being converted into a bilateral summit, most people here I have talked to have asked questions which reflect their hopes and fears about the 'morning after' impact on the relations between the two countries in the wake of their interaction during the Saarc summit. Some believe that the BJP government of Prime Minister Vajpayee is under pressure from four constituencies to reduce the tensions in the region and end the government-to-government hostilities between India and Pakistan. They are of the view that 'the first pressure is from the international community which wants to see India take the lead in restoring lasting peace in the region. The international community does not want to see a perpetual tension between two nuclear armed neighbours. 'The second pressure is from the economically well-off emerging middle classes of India and its worldwide Diaspora, both of whom want to make money and for that they want peace in the region, it is as simple as that. 'The third pressure is from those who believe in the concept of Hindu India. They too want peace, even at the cost of their hegemony in the region as they want to compete with China in the economic field without the hassle of Pakistan holding them back. 'And fourthly, they (the BJP) want to appease the Indian Muslims by making peace with Pakistan. That is why they have advanced the general elections from September to April next year. 'They believe that they would make effective electoral gains among the Muslim voters by making peace with Pakistan by then.' Mr Vajpayee is expected to announce reduction in Indian military presence in the held Kashmir before or after his arrival in Islamabad. And some even expect him to express some very dramatic thoughts on Indo-Pakistan relations in his musings 2003, which he is expected to make public on Wednesday.


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