Kashmir Troop Cuts May Aid Indian-Pakistani Talks
12 November 2004
Islamabad: India's move to reduce its troops in disputed Kashmir this winter could improve peace talks with Pakistan aimed at ending more than 50 years of enmity between the nuclear rivals, Pakistan said Friday. The decision by Manmohan Singh, India's prime minister, is 'a step in the right direction,' said Masood Khan, a Foreign Ministry spokesman in a statement. Khan said Islamabad would closely monitor the withdrawal in the Himalayan territory, which is divided between the South Asian neighbors but claimed by both in its entirety. He declined to say whether Pakistan would reciprocate. Singh said Thursday that because of a decline in separatist violence in India's portion of Kashmir, some Indian forces would be withdrawn until March, but he did not say how many. Singh warned that he would redeploy soldiers if rebel attacks in India's portion of Kashmir increase. India has deployed about one million troops in the Himalayan region since 1989, when Islamic guerrillas began fighting for independence of the Indian- held portion of Kashmir or its merger with Pakistan. The insurgency has claimed more than 65,000 lives, mostly civilian. Indian officials say that Pakistan-based militants cross into India's state of Jammu and Kashmir to foment the insurgency, and accuse Islamabad of abetting them. Islamabad denies this, and has pledged to crack down on infiltration. Brahma Chellaney, a defense analyst based in New Delhi, said the real test would come when the snow melts next year, making it easy again for militants to cross mountain passes. 'In recent weeks there has been some drop in infiltration,' he said. 'But we do not know if this is because of the difficult climate conditions or a result of Pakistan's action against terror groups.' In Pakistan, an official of Hezb-ul Mujahedeen, one of the main guerrilla groups fighting Indian rule in Kashmir, refused to comment on Singh's offer. 'We will give our reaction after some days,' the official said. The group has accused Pakistan of offering too much to New Delhi in moves toward peace. Pakistan and India have improved relations over the past year, declaring a cease-fire on the heavily militarized frontier cutting through Kashmir, restoring diplomatic ties and travel links, and starting talks aimed at resolving Kashmir and other issues. The next round is scheduled for early December. Khan said the reduction of Indian troops 'can reinforce the process of dialogue and confidence-building between Pakistan and India.' 'We also hope that this decision will be the first step towards the promotion and protection of Kashmiris' human rights,' he added. General Pervez Musharraf, the president of Pakistan, recommended last month that both countries withdraw their forces from Kashmir.