Govt announces major troop drawdown in Kashmir

Govt announces major troop drawdown in Kashmir

New Delhi: The Indian army said Friday it had pulled 30,000 troops out of Kashmir, one of the biggest military drawdowns in a decade that reflects a sharp fall in violence in the volatile region.

“We have moved out two divisions of infantry formations who were on internal security duties ... and approximately the number of soldiers pulled out is 30,000 men," spokesman Colonel Om Singh said in New Delhi.

The withdrawal was one of the biggest since 1999 when nuclear-armed India and Pakistan fought a six-week undeclared war in the Himalayan peaks in which some 1,000 soldiers on both sides died.

A 20-year-old insurgency against Indian rule in the Muslim-majority region has claimed more than 47,000 lives.

Singh said the number of soldiers deployed along the Line of Control — the de facto border that divides the territory into India- and Pakistan-administered Kashmir — had not been reduced.

“They cannot be moved from there because that is a permanent deployment," he said, declining to disclose the number of troops along the 746-kilometre (463-mile) control line.

Experts and independent sources estimate the number of Indian troops along the Line of Control at around 120,000. The total number of Indian forces in Kashmir is unknown but it is believed to be in the hundreds of thousands.

Violence has declined since India and Pakistan started a peace process in 2004 and the New Delhi government has said it wants to hand over day-to-day security operations to police.

The dispute dates from the partition of the subcontinent in 1947 and the Kashmiri region is split between the two countries along the UN-monitored Line of Control.

Defence minister A.K. Antony told reporters on the sidelines of a human rights seminar in New Delhi that more troops could be withdrawn if the state government demanded.

He warned, however, that the controversial Armed Forces Special Powers Act, which gives the military sweeping powers to detain people without an arrest warrant, will remain in force across the disputed region.

“Without special powers, they (military) will not be able to act effectively," Antony said, but added he was ready for a “detailed discussion for some modifications here and there" in the law.

Antony said the “onus" was on the armed forces to stop its misuse.

“We will not hesitate in taking stern action against the guilty, in case of any misuse. We must adopt the policy of ‘zero tolerance´ in letter and spirit, towards any instance of human rights violation," he added.

The government has been promising since June to reduce the military presence as part of a bid to reduce tensions in the region.