No Major Troop Cut In J&K, Relocation Likely
25 July 2007
The Times of India
New Delhi: The high-level 'expert panel' appointed by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to review the internal security situation in Jammu and Kashmir has ruled out any large-scale troop reduction in the terrorism-hit state at this stage. The panel, chaired by Defence Secretary Shekhar Dutt, was, however, of the view that 'relocation and reconfiguration' of security forces deployed within J&K should be carried out to make them 'less obtrusive' and ease the lives of civilians there. There is also the likelihood of some formations, which were moved to J&K during Operation Parakram after the terrorist attack on Parliament in December 2001, being moved out of the state without affecting the overall strength. 'This will not affect the counter-insurgency grid,' said an official. Though the panel's recommendations are being kept 'confidential' since they have to be submitted to Defence Minister A K Antony and the PM, sources said it had 'by and large accepted' the Army view that there should be no major cut in the troops deployed in counter-insurgency operations till the ground situation in J&K drastically improved. The Army can certainly live with some troop-cuts since almost one- third of the 1.13-million force is deployed in J&K, which includes around 60,000 soldiers from the specialised counter-insurgency force, the Rashtriya Rifles. Withdrawal of 20,000 soldiers or so, for instance, will not affect either the force posture along the 778- km LoC or the counter-insurgency operations in the hinterland. But this will help the UPA government placate Mufti Mohammed Sayeed and his daughter Mehbooba of the People's Democratic Party, a coalition partner of the Congress in the state government, who have raised the pitch for moving soldiers out of horticulture land, orchards, government and private buildings in the state. The PM, in fact, had set up the mechanism to study the 'problematic aspects' of the J&K situation due to these demands. Under the mechanism, Antony heads the high-powered committee which will take decisions on the recommendations of the expert panel as well as another 'review committee' looking into the 'application' of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act in J&K. 'The move to vacate buildings and orchards is an ongoing process. The Army has vacated over 100 such buildings since 2005. The expert panel has only recommended the process should be speeded up,' said an official.