India Announces Troop Reductions in Kashmir


By Randeep Ramesh

November 12, 2004

India's prime minister ordered a reduction in the number of troops in the disputed Muslim-majority state of Kashmir last night, breathing new life into a peace process with Pakistan. Manmohan Singh, who is making his first trip to Kashmir next week, said the move reflects an improvement in the security situation. Mr Singh did not reveal the scale of the withdrawal, which will take place this winter. India deploys 500,000 soldiers in Kashmir. Pakistan has welcomed the move. "This is a positive decision and it could ease tension between the two countries," a Pakistani foreign office spokesperson, Masood Khan, told New Delhi Television.

India's portion of Kashmir, Jammu and Kashmir, has been racked by an insurgency since 1989 which has claimed more than 60,000 lives. India has accused Pakistan of training and sending armed Islamic militants across the line of control, which cuts Kashmir in two. Pakistan has denied the claims. Mr Singh cautioned that the Indian army could not "afford to relax our vigil", alleging that militant training camps and launching bases in the Pakistani-controlled Kashmir remained intact. He said the use of effective counter-infiltration measures and the mobilisation of the support of the people in the war against terrorism have led to a "visible improvement" in the situation. "This is reflected in the increased tempo of economic activity, continuing increase in tourist arrivals and a general sense of security among the people," he said.

There is an unmistakable change in the tone of both countries, which have fought two wars over Kashmir and came close to a nuclear exchange in 2002. India's move comes weeks after the Pakistani president, Pervez Musharraf, made a fresh set of proposals to solve the dispute peacefully. Among the options he suggested were joint rule or a redivision of the territory. This startled analysts because it appeared to drop Pakistan's traditional demand for a referendum.

The Indian decision to scale back troops comes ahead of a rare visit by the Pakistani prime minister, Shaukat Aziz, to Delhi this month. The two nuclear rivals are also due to hold talks in December on resolving the dispute. Kashmir's moderate separatist leadership welcomed the decision to pull out some troops, but said it was even more important that human rights abuses stopped. "It is a welcome step but the troops should behave as security forces, not as an occupational force," said Moulana Abbas Ansari, of Kashmir's moderate wing of the All Parties Hurriyat (Freedom) Conference, a separatist grouping.

Just before the announcement guerrillas threw grenades as they tried to storm an Indian army camp in Indian Kashmir's capital, Srinagar. Two of the attackers were gunned down while soldiers were looking for another inside the camp on the banks of Srinagar's Dal lake. Three soldiers were wounded.

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