Increasing pressure for withdrawal of army: Kashmir govt wants 51 police battalions
11 November 2006
The Daily Times
New Delhi: The Jammu and Kashmir government has sought permission to sanction 51 battalions of armed police to take over security operations in the wake of increasing pressure for withdrawal of army and the paramilitary forces from civilian areas. Sources here said that Chief Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad and Finance Minister Tariq Hameed Qarra raised the issue before Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh when they called on him last Thursday. Singh, however, directed them to work out the details with the Union Home Ministry. State government sources said they wanted to kill two birds with one stone by raising such a huge police force. The move would create jobs for over 60,000 youth while simultaneously addressing security issues in case the Border Security Force (BSF) or the army are withdrawn from civilian areas. Alliance partner Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and several human rights organisations have demanded withdrawal of army and paramilitary forces from civilian areas. Last year, the government replaced the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) with the BSF units that were controlling Srinagar for the past decade. Activists, however, say the move made no difference and most citizens continued to be harassed. Sources here said that Azad argued before the prime minister that the state needed to remain vigilant in case the demand for demilitarisation increased. One day or another, army and paramilitary forces will be phased out from cities and towns. We need to be ready to face the situation, argued the state government delegation that met the Planning Commission, Union Finance Minister P Chidambaram and the prime minister. The delegation demanded that the example of Punjab be repeated in Jammu and Kashmir, where law and order was handed over to state police once the army was called back to the barracks, instead of being handed over to some other central force. Central government officials argued during the meeting that the state government is already in possession of five Indian Reserve Police (IRP) battalions and were willing to raise more such battalions if the need arose. They were told, however, that the state needs a permanent stationed force, and not one that can be transferred outside state and controlled from New Delhi. The state government will soon submit a plan to the Union Home Ministry, which will decide on an appropriate course of action after consultations with Finance Ministry officials. The Indian government had already sanctioned five additional battalions of state armed police a few months ago. The idea of increasing the police force in the area is to involve local police in counter insurgency operations and for better coordination with army and paramilitary forces. Improvement in general policing and expansion of the state polices intelligence network are also on top of the agenda of the state police force behind the expansion. The state government, which recently advertised the recruitment of two battalions, has received more than 20,000 applications from unemployed youth. They originally had 30,000 officers in 1990 ahead of the onset of militancy. Currently, the number of police officers alone is about 75,000. If the Special Police Officers (SPOs) are hired, and Village and Defence Committee members added to the number, the new figure crosses 100,000. In addition to increasing the number of battalions for the police force, state police officials are also trying to reinforce their intelligence network. We need sleuths who can be posted in distant villages where militants have carved out safe sanctuaries, said a top police official.