India to cut troops to push Kashmir peace process (Roundup)

January 14th, 2011 - 6:56 pm ICT by IANS  

Bharatiya Janata Party New Delhi, Jan 14 (IANS) There will be a 25 percent cut in security forces in Jammu and Kashmir in the next 12 months, Home Secretary G.K. Pillai announced Friday while also disclosing that travel restrictions for Pakistani Kashmiris could be eased as part of confidence building measures being planned for the state.”There will be a 25 percent reduction of security forces in Jammu and Kashmir, especially from populated areas, in the next 12 months,” Pillai said at a symposium on ‘What is the way forward in Jammu and Kashmir’ organised by the Jamia Millia Islamia University.

He said this was being done so “that people don’t get harassed by the over-presence of security forces”.

According to Pillai, the government wished “to do more” in terms of troop reduction, a popular demand of various mainstream and separatist political parties but is opposed by the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

The proposal to further reduce the presence of security forces in the conflict-riven state comes after over 100 days of summer unrest - which started in June 2010 and claimed more than 100 lives - calmed down following official promises of a political solution.

The government had last year removed nearly 35,000 security personnel from the state but the process was halted following reports of militant incursions from Pakistan, which claims the whole of Jammu and Kashmir and rules about one-third of the territory under its occupation.

Pillai said the government was also considering giving Pakistani Kashmiris six-month multiple entry permits to visit their relatives in Jammu and Kashmir. At present, Pakistani Kashmiris get a 15-day single entry permit to travel in a bus service between Srinagar and Muzaffarabad, the capital of Pakistan-administered Kashmir.

“We will do it unilaterally. People from there (Pakistani Kashmir) can have multiple entry one permit (to travel to Jammu and Kashmir) so that they don’t have to re-apply whenever they want to visit their divided families again,” Pillai said. He added that Pakistan had shot down the proposal.

He put the onus of a decision on the controversial Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), which gives impunity to armed forces in their anti-terror operations, on the state government.

“Why cannot the state government take a decision, take a leap of faith and notify that all of Jammu and Kashmir or parts of it are not disturbed now? The Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFPSA) applies to the areas which state governments notify as disturbed. If the area is no longer disturbed, the AFSPA doesn’t apply,” he said.

The withdrawal of the AFSPA is a popular demand of Kashmiri politicians, including the ruling National Conference, to assuage the hurt feelings of the people of the state following accusations that the armed forces have misused the powers and committed human rights violations in the garb of collateral damage during anti-militancy operations.

The home secretary said the government was waiting for the final report from the interlocutors who have spoken to about 100 groups and “the people whose voices were unheard” in the last few months to find a political solution to the 60-year-old issue. The report is expected this April.

“Interlocutors are telling us that you need CBMs (confidence building measures) and you also need a political solution (which) should be peaceful and acceptable to all the regions (Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh). Democracy and rule of law should prevail and the solution should respect the diversity, ethnicity and all faiths.”

Another measure to build trust and win peace in the Kashmir Valley, he said, was allowing the return of youth who had crossed the Line of Control (LoC) into Pakistan-administered Kashmir to receive arms training in the last 20 years.

“The government is ready with it and would be implemented soon,” he said, about the policy that has been cleared by the central government and also approved by the state cabinet.

He said some 1,800 to 2,500 Kashmiri youth holed up in Pakistan were ready to surrender.

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