Scaling down


Defence Minister A K Anthony recently announced that the army had withdrawn 30,000 troops from Jammu & Kashmir and is prepared to further scale down force levels depending on how the situation improves in the trouble-torn border state. This refers to the exit of the army's two fighting formations, namely the 27 and 39 divisions from J & K over a two year period. Clearly the government was comfortable about the progress of the peace process that has successfully taken shape in the border state wracked by insurgency for over two decades.
The decision to reduce force levels implies that the situation has improved south of the Pir Panjal mountain ranges but not necessarily in the Valley. The move implies that the army has thinned out its presence in the state but not exited from the Valley that remains vulnerable to insurgency. The army has also decided to reduce its visible presence in the state by conducting fewer operations against insurgents in order to win the hearts and minds of the Kashmiri people. From a military point of view the withdrawal would enable the army to provide its weary troops the much needed rest and recreation that they deserve; besides being able to put them through their regular training sessions which tend to suffer when they are deployed in counter insurgency roles for extended periods. These two aspects have a direct bearing on the operational preparedness in terms of morale and  honing combat capabilities.       

The army’s extended presence in J& K has always been a controversial issue. While the army has withdrawn 30,000 troops, it has not handed over those areas to the  J&K police. How soon and how much of the area the army is able to entrust to the J&K police will become an index of the success of the peace process. The government gradually needs to reduce the army’s presence from the hinterland in the long term and replace it with the state police force. The army would then only be confined to the borders for external security which is its primary role. The unilateral reduction of troops will also smoothen the path for the stalled peace talks between India and Pakistan to resume.

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