Centre To Withdraw 'significant' Numbers Of Battalions From J&K: Chidambaram

2 December 2009
Times of India


New Delhi: As it moves to stoke a dialogue with separatists in Kashmir and restrict army presence to 'essentials' in J&K, the Centre has decided to 'withdraw significant number of battalions' from the state and increasingly transfer law and order to state police. Home minister P Chidambaram told Rajya Sabha while replying to a short duration discussion on internal security that there was an element of 'risk' attached to the move to reduce the army footprint in J&K. But he maintained that there was no let up in vigil with regard to infiltration. The minister seemed buoyed by reduced incidence of violence in the state which has been lowest in 2009 and the Centre seems prepared to gamble on J-K police increasingly handling law and order operations. The decision is bound to result in mixed reactions as army encampments are often the best bet for a 'quasi-normal' life for many in Kashmir. The withdrawal is likely to be carefully monitored with the thinning initially carried out in urban areas as the rural population is much more vulnerable to jihadi groups using their villages and homes even though the terrorists tend to stage their attacks in places like Srinagar. The discussion in which MPs like Rama Jois of BJP demanded a law like Maintenance of Internal Security Act, nonetheless saw Chidambaram banking on peace. Giving an account of the situation in the state, the home minister said there was no violence during Id, no incident of stone throwing during Friday prayers. Chidambaram also said 3.9 lakh pilgrims went to Amarnath and 10,000 Sikhs came out on the streets of Srinagar to celebrate Guruparab. Earlier, while replying to a question, he had supported government's attempt to pursue 'quiet talks' with various Kashmiri groups. He said the government would not shy away from talking to any organisation - even those which are demanding right to self determination or self rule. If reducing the visible army presence helps the argument for talks, the minister seems prepared to give it a go. Stating that there was 'very positive response' of various groups, the minister said government was willing to talk to 'every shade of political opinion' in J&K. 'These will be quiet talks, quiet diplomacy...far away from the glare of media', Chidambaram said adding he could not share details of the talks at this moment. Stating 'zero tolerance' for both 'jehadi and Hindu militancy', Chidambaram, while responding to the debate on internal security, said a big terror incident or communal riot since 26-11 had been avoided due to the revamped intelligence set up, improved capacity of intelligence agencies and a sense of confidence that they have the competence to foil terrorism. In the past year, he said, more than a dozen plots have been foiled. The minister did admit he had been lucky so far but one 'unlucky' strike can wipe away the effort. He also said states have been told to fill the vacancy of over 2.3 lakh constables by March next year. 'Best intelligence is gathered by foot soldiers, the beat constable,' he said. Though Chidambaram's reference to 'Hindu militancy' was met with resistance by BJP members Prakash Javdekar, Balbir Punj and SS Ahluwalia who alleged he should not bring religion to the terror issue, home minister refused to yield. 'Terrorism is inspired by religion. I cannot modify my argument to please BJP,' he said, adding that no one is blaming the entire community. Home minister said epicentre of terror today is the junction of Aghanistan-Pakistan. 'Since we are in the neighbourhood we are victims of terror,' he said. He said country is vulnerable since adversary has not changed. 'LeT and others are coordinating. One group has tie up with al-Qaida,' he said.