30,000 troops pulled out of J&K

The army has withdrawn two mountain divisions—around 30,000 soldiers—from Jammu & Kashmir over the last two years and the government says it will deinduct more troops if the internal security situation in the state improves further. There is, however, no plan for any immediate ‘withdrawal’ of the iron-fisted Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA) despite persistent demands for its revocation from J&K political parties. “The army, by its own initiative, has withdrawn two divisions from J&K. It withdrew one last year and another one this year. We are willing to further reduce the visibility and presence of armed forces from there,’’ defence minister A K Antony said .The 27 Mountain Division has been relocated to its original area of responsibility in Kalimpong and its surrounding areas on the eastern front with China. It had been moved to J&K during the 1999 Kargil conflict. The 39 Mountain Division is now back to its base at Palampur in Himachal Pradesh under the Yolebased 9 Corps. It had been rushed to the Valley to strengthen the counter-insurgency grid in the 1990s. Speaking at an internal security seminar organised by the army’s adjutant general branch and the Centre for Land Warfare Studies, Antony said, “The government is not at all interested in the permanent stationing of armed forces on a large scale in J&K. Whenever we feel the situation is improving, we reduce their presence.’’ He added that whenever the state government felt that it could manage without the army, more forces would be pulled out, but as long as troops were deployed in the state, AFSPA would remain in operation. “The Act empowers the forces to act in difficult situations. Without special powers, they will not be able to act effectively. However, there is also a robust mechanism in place for course correction,’’ said Antony, adding that discussions were on to bring in amendments or “make some modifications here and there’’ to make AFSPA more humane and prevent its misuse. “The track record of our forces in upholding human rights ought to have been much better than it is. I wish to emphasise that 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 said. While mainstream parties want thinning out of more troops, separatist groups, favour complete withdrawal to enable them to join talks process. Hurriyat Conference chairman Mirwaiz Umar Farooq said the talks process would move forward only when Central forces completely vacate the state.

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