Govt mulls 25% troop cut in J&K

The government plans to reduce 25% of the paramilitary forces from populated areas in Jammu and Kashmir over the next 12 months as a confidence-building measure. There will, however, be no de-induction of Army soldiers from the borders or from counter-insurgency operations in the hinterland. Union home secretary G K Pillai on Friday announced that the government was planning to “unilaterally” issue six-month multiple-entry permits for people of Pakistan-occupied-Kashmir who would like to visit J&K through the Line of Control (LoC). Army chief Gen V K Singh, later in the day, said though he was unaware of the home ministry’s plan, he was sure any such step would be taken after discussions in the Unified Command HQs operating in the state. All care will have to be taken to “ensure that extra pressure” is not put on the “already stretched” Army, and only forces which are “dispensable” are removed from J&K, he said. As for the Army, we are deployed on the borders and the hinterland as per the threat perception. Though we have been able to check infiltration to a large extent, we do not feel we have to cut down our forces at this point in time,” said Gen Singh. Pillai’s announcements are broadly part of the government’s eight-point agenda, cleared by the Cabinet Committee on Security last September to improve the overall situation in J&K. As per the agenda, the government will periodically review the deployment of security forces in the Kashmir Valley, especially Srinagar, with particular reference to de-scaling the number of bunkers and checkpoints, and the notification of areas as disturbed areas. Sixteen bunkers of paramilitary forces have already been removed from Srinagar since then. Talking about other measures, Pillai said India and Pakistan allowed people from J&K and PoK to visit either side with a permit valid for 15 days. “People visit their relatives more often. So, we have suggested that if you give 15 days’ permit they have to go through the verification process. So why can’t six-month multiple-entry permits be given,” he said. “Once verification is done, one should be able to visit relatives whenever one wants. Now we are planning to unilaterally give up to six-month multiple-entry permits for people of PoK (in a phased manner),” he said. Despite hiccups in the composite dialogue between India and Pakistan, said Pillai, New Delhi wants to reach out to people of the neighbouring country through various ways. “Official-level composite dialogue has not taken off the way we would have wanted it to take off. But people-to-people talks are on. We are encouraging musical, cultural programmes and drama festivals between the two countries,” he said. Replying to a Kashmiri student’s question as to why did it took the Centre four months to react to the deaths of students in J&K last summer, Pillai said, “I agree it should not have taken so long but governance is a huge issue for the central government... Why can’t the state government solve some issues on its own? At every stage the Centre is expected to fill in. You have to empower the people. The government has to be decentralised, has to reach out to people.” The Centre is also taking up the issue of discrimination against Kashmiris in some states as well as asking corporates to give jobs to youths of J&K in different parts of the country. “We think they can absorb 1,00,000 youths in jobs all over India in the next 12 months,” he said. Emphasising the role played by transparency, Pillai said, “The setting up of an Information Commission in J&K as well as strengthening of the state Human Rights Commission, setting up of a Child Rights Council are issues which are part of the CBMs. We hope that the state government would take up such things in the coming days.” Complementing the three-member group of interlocutors, the home secretary said since their appointment in October 2010, the group has spoken to hundreds of people and many groups. “People who have never been heard are now speaking.” The government expects the interlocutors to submit their final report by April.

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