Troop Withdrawals Spur New Fears In Kashmir
26 November 2004
The Hindustan Times
Jammu: The reduction of troops in Jammu and Kashmir has led some families living in the hilly areas of the Jammu region to leave their homes because of fear of a possible increase in guerrilla activity. About a dozen families from the border district of Rajouri - one of the militancy-affected areas in the state - have moved to Jammu. Members of the families claimed they felt safer in Jammu and have vowed not to return till they feel that terrorists operating in their areas have been neutralised. The Jammu region's hilly areas, like Mahore, Gool Gulabgarh, Budhal, Darhal, Kalakote and Surankote, are among the worst militancy-hit areas. Separatist terrorists have killed over 80 civilians, including women and children, in these areas in the past three months. The Indian Army, which began withdrawing thousands of soldiers from Kashmir in keeping with an announcement by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, has said the move would not affect its counter-insurgency operations or its ability to tackle the terrorists. But people in the hilly areas of Jammu, especially those whose relatives are soldiers or working with the security forces in counter-insurgency operations, fear that the troop pullout will make them soft targets for the terrorists. The fact that families with links to the security forces were picked out by terrorists as targets in the past has accentuated their fears. Over 3,000 troops have been withdrawn from the Kalakote and Sunderbani areas of Rajouri district. The families of soldiers and informers - the tag attached to those associated with the security forces - are feeling more scared after the troop pullout. They do not agree with the assessment of army officers that the troops were withdrawn because of an improvement in the situation. They cite continuing incidents of violence in the hilly areas as an expression of their fears. Mohammad Hussain Gujjar, a village elder of Shahdhara Sharief, who was kidnapped and later killed by terrorists, is held up as just one instance. There have been incidents of terrorists barging into houses and, with no one to challenge them, the level of fear has gone up. A man who had recently shifted to Jammu said 'The troop reduction was a suicidal move.' This perception runs contrary to the assertion of the Indian Army chief, Gen NC Vij, that security has not been compromised. He, however, admitted that the army had taken 'a calculated risk in reducing troops'. But the migrant, who did not want to be named, said 'Calculated or not, I don't know, but it has definitely put our lives at grave risk.' Former Minister of State for Defence and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Chaman Lal Gupta, who belongs to the Jammu region, has expressed concern that the troop reduction will increase the risk for people in the hilly areas.