India Pulls 5,000 Troops Out Of Kashmir
6 February 2006
New Delhi: India has moved out 5,000 troops from Kashmir following an ebb in militancy in the disputed territory, Defense Minister Pranab Mukherjee said Feb. 6, insisting however it was not a withdrawal. The troops would be sent back to the divided state if violence again escalates, Mukherjee said on the sidelines of a military conference in New Delhi. 'It is not withdrawal but redeployment of forces from Jammu and Kashmir to the northeastern (states) as (the) violence level has come down,' he said. Mukherjee insisted the withdrawal was a 'routine exercise' and dismissed suggestions that it was a gesture ahead of a planned visit to India by U.S. President George W. Bush next month. 'The redeployment is a regular exercise undertaken after review of the situation in the state and last year we reduced troops voluntarily,' Mukherjee said. Military sources told AFP that at least 6,000 combat troops were pulled out of Kashmir in 2005. Up to 400,000 combat forces are deployed along the borders of Kashmir, which is claimed both by India and Pakistan. Islamabad earlier this month asked New Delhi to de-militarize three Kashmiri towns to add momentum to their two-year old peace process. India and Pakistan have fought two of their three wars since 1947 over Kashmir and came dangerously close to a fourth conflict in 2002 after an attack by gunmen on the Indian parliament which New Delhi said was sponsored by Islamabad. However, a peace process started two years ago has seen the re-launch of transport links between the two countries, including in Kashmir, and has reduced tension in the Himalayan territory. More than 44,000 people have died in insurgency-linked violence in Kashmir since 1989 when Islamist guerrillas launched an anti-Indian rebellion in the disputed zone.