India Cuts Troops By 30K, Calls Pak Bluff

18 December 2009
The Economic Times


New Delhi: In a deft move, the government on Friday announced a reduction of 30,000 troops in Jammu and Kashmir and dented Pakistan’s spurious “India has aggressive designs against it” charge. Islamabad, which deploys most of its troops along the border with India, had launched a campaign saying it cannot concentrate on its troublesome western border due to the ‘India threat’. India’s announcement about withdrawal of two Army divisions from Kashmir with a promise of more cutbacks comes at a time when Islamabad is under pressure from the US to take intensive military action against terror groups with safe haven in Pakistan. On Friday defence minister A K Antony announced that with the situation’improving’ in Jammu and Kashmir, the government wanted to reduce the “visibility and presence” of the armed forces in the state. “Indian Army, by their own initiatives, has withdrawn two divisions (30,000) from J&K. Last year, they withdrew one, and this year the second division was withdrawn. They have been withdrawn because the situation has improved,” Mr Antony said. He further said that the state government felt it could manage without the Army. The defence minister also called the deployment of armed forces the last resort for internal security purposes. “Because of the presence of armed forces and their dedication, we have been able to prevent terrorists' attempts (to strike). That is why in J&K, for the first time, situation is improving and the number of infiltration and violent instances are also declining,’’ he said. He has, however, made it clear that the operation of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) could not be revoked at this juncture. Mr Antony said that as long as the Army was in the state, Afspa could not be withdrawn but said there could be a discussion for some modifications in the Act. “Without special powers, they will not be able to act effectively,” he said. In a reference to Pakistan, the minister said the country faced many internal security challenges, which were “complicated” due to external support extended to perpetrators of terrorism. “India has been the worst victim of terrorism. The international community has of late, woken up to the need for global unity in the fight against terror,' he said. The troop reduction announcement is expected to yield diplomatic dividends for India, which has been at the receiving end of the Pakistani campaign. With an eye on the Af-Pak policy, the US had also been asking India to take steps to help Pakistan focus on the border with Afghanistan. “In diplomatic terms, it’s a smart move,’’ said former Indian envoy to Pakistan G Parthasarathy. He said that the move was a message to people in the state that the police could manage and a message to the world that India has reduced its troops leaving Pakistan with little reason to feel threatened on its eastern border. “That is the intent... we have diluted troops what else can we do? It will put more pressure on Pakistan to concentrate on terror,’’ concurred Ajai Sahni, executive director of the Institute of Conflict Management. He further pointed out that troop reduction also showed that the government was comfortable with the ground situation in the state. “The objective not to keep a large number of troops but a requisite force for counter terrorism,’’ he said.