The Indian media has been carrying reports about the Union Government considering a phased withdrawal of the Indian Army from the hinterland of the Kashmir Valley. These reports are based on a series of articles and editorials that The Indian Express has carried on the subject.
The base for this news in The Indian Express has been formed by an article titled, “Govt considers phased withdrawal of Army from Kashmir hinterland” written by Deeptiman Tiwary with inputs from Amrita Nayak Dutta.
In the article Tiwary has quoted a “senior security establishment officer” as having said, “The matter is under serious discussion at inter-ministerial level and it is understood to be feasible. In a way, the decision has been taken and it is a matter of when it will be done. Ultimately, however, it will be a political call.” He has also quoted defence sources to say that the Army is already working on resizing the Rashtriya Rifles.
In support of the article, an editorial in the same newspaper titled “Reducing Army presence in J&K hinterland: A thaw in the Valley” has stated, “It is welcome that a discussion has begun on pruning the presence of Army troops in civilian areas in the hinterland of Jammu and Kashmir.”
To an experienced eye it becomes quite apparent that the foregoing is an attempt to create a narrative by quoting unidentifiable sources like “senior security establishment officer” and “defence sources.” All responsibility of any concrete steps being taken in this direction is shed with a statement by the “senior security establishment officer” that “ultimately it will be a political call.”
Obviously the news piece is no more than loud thinking and has been eagerly picked by other media establishments since news about Kashmir is quite hard to come by these days. The other media establishments have taken the precaution of saying that the clarification sought from Defence, CRPF and Police establishments elicited no comment.
The article is mainly referring to a reduction in strength of the Rashtriya Rifles through a graduated process of resizing which will entail reduction of battalions strength from six to four companies and also reduction is some Sector Headquarters.
The Rashtriya Rifles (RR) is a force that was created by the Indian Army in 1990 by pruning existing strength of units to meet the insurgency and terrorism challenge posed at the behest of foreign powers in the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir. It has three Division size forces south of the Pir Panjal mountain range and two in the Kashmir Valley. This Indian army element functions in the hinterland under the enabling legislation- Armed Forces (Jammu and Kashmir) Special Powers Act, 1990 in a counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency role.
The RR has achieved singular success in containing the scourge of terrorism in J&K. It has saved countless lives and also won the hearts and minds of the people with initiatives under the Army welfare scheme, Operation Sadbhavna. Today the people of the Union Territory feel very safe and secure if an RR operating base is located in the vicinity of their villages and localities.
Welfare activities by Rashtriya Rifles in J&K
Any decision to downsize the existing strength of security personnel in the Union Territory of J&K needs to take into consideration the overall security environment in the region including the situation across the border.
The first factor to be considered is Pakistan. It is a fact that Pakistan is going through an existential crisis and is on the verge of a breakdown. It has however not broken down as yet and may well be kept intact with application of brutal force by its all powerful Army.
It is also well known that the Pakistan Army normally creates conflict with India to divert attention of the people who are suffering an extraordinary governance deficit. There is no reason to believe that the Pakistan Army will not follow a similar course in this current scenario. Should this happen Jammu and Kashmir, will form the pivot for Pakistan disruptive designs.
There is a belief that Pakistan is not in a position to launch sustained military operations against India. This is a misnomer. Pakistan Army and Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) are very much intact and they can easily garner the necessary financial resources for their misadventures against India in the name of Islam and from other countries that are inimical to India.
Pakistan may use this route as a pre-emptive to Balochistan, Sindh and Gilgit-Baltistan seeking assistance from India in their attempt to break free from the Punjabi and Pakistan army stranglehold.
Pakistan will, therefore, continue playing the terrorism card in Kashmir and more so now when it is on the back foot.
The UT of Jammu and Kashmir has witnessed a paradigm shift towards a nationalistic mindset. However, there continue to remain in place small and very deeply embedded pockets that can create trouble and raise emotions in the name of Islam and Azaadi . These pockets will remain till support from Pakistan is forthcoming and they are best handled by the Indian Army, specifically the Rashtriya Rifles.
The people will summarily reject replacement of the Indian Army with paramilitary forces since they view the latter as symbols of state repression. The Army, on the other hand, has widespread acceptance due its long and strong bond with the people. Replacement of the Army can only be carried out with law enforcing bodies created locally, in this direction creation of local paramilitary forces is also an option that can be considered . However, till such time that alternatives to the Army presence in the UT are not created, operationalised and validated a move to downsize the force will be premature.
The articles on the subject speaks of specific withdrawal of RR from the Kashmir Valley. However, logic dictates that such and exercise should commence from South of the Pir Panjal and slowly gravitate towards the valley. To mention only Kashmir in this matter raises questions about the motive of the articles.
There are many Kashmir based political parties and pressure groups that would like to see a near complete withdrawal of the Army from the region, what to talk of the hinterland. It is necessary for the Nation to avoid falling in a trap of words being created by these forces. Downsizing the military strength in Jammu and Kashmir has to be done with utmost caution and deliberation.