There Indian government seems to be in the midst a paradigm shift in its internal security assessment and posture. This is quite visible from the tone and tenor of the considerable number of statements emanating from the corridors of power in New Delhi, especially with regard to Jammu and Kashmir and the Naxal hit areas. The most significant amongst these is the recent assertion by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, in the course of his Press Conference at New Delhi on February, 16. While dwelling on the issue of internal security the Prime Minister indicated that there is an improvement in the internal security situation of the country. With respect to Jammu and Kashmir he asserted that there are signs of the situation coming under control and that the people of the State could look forward to orderly development processes especially so in the matter of enhanced employment opportunities.
The Prime Ministers assertion is supported by a number of Indicators on the ground; the Home Ministry has declared its intention to de-induct about 10,000 Para-military personnel from J&K. “There is scope of reduction of troops is the home ministry’s view. There are more than adequate forces in Kashmir and it can do with less Central forces,” Union Home Secretary Mr GK Pillai said, “Irrespective of the situation, I can take out 10 battalions and it would not have any impact.” He added as a further clarification. The Army, however, feels that there is not much scope for a change in its deployment in J&K. The Army Chief has, in a recent interview to an English news channel, made it amply clear that there is no proposal for a cut in the presence of the Army in Jammu and Kashmir. This view has been validated by the Defence Minister.
The assessment of the Prime Minister and the decision of the Home Ministry would give ample reason to cheer but for the lingering doubt that all of this is a bit premature. Jammu and Kashmir is traditionally stable at this time of the year. A better assessment can be made only if this stability holds in the sensitive months from April to September. It also has to be kept in mind that the separatists, as and when they come into their disruptive element, invariably assert that politics and development are two different issues and once protests gain momentum, the government’s efforts towards development do not help in controlling the adverse situation.
There seems to be some movement in the right direction with respect to the government’s response to the Naxal challenge. It can be logically concluded that the Para-military units proposed to be de-inducted from Jammu and Kashmir will be deployed to augment the operations in the Naxal belt. The Home Secretary has also given an indication of the governments thought process in this direction, “We have about 70 battalions in Kashmir and we have 62 battalions in seven Left-wing affected states which are big states…. I think if I can take out, I will try to pull out as many as I can,” he has stated. The Army’s has been given the responsibility to set up a facility to train Police and Para-military troops being inducted for anti-Naxal operations.
The Army has made it amply clear that the proposed facility will be for training purposes only. In a press conference on January 14, the Army Chief, General VK Singh, stated that the Army was “neither operating in the area nor seeking protection under the AFSPA.” This training facility is proposed to come up in Narayanpur district, along the edges of Abhujmard – a Maoist-controlled forest plateau straddling Chhattisgarh and Maharashtra. Expectedly, the Maoist guerrilla organisation has declared its vehement opposition to the move, describing it as the first step towards eventual deployment of Army in anti-Maoist operations. Further, the Army Chief has made it clear that the issue of legal protection in case the Army personnel are forced to retaliate against an attack on their camp will have to be addressed by the government. “Legal protection and clarity is needed for soldiers in case they have to retaliate”, the Chief has categorically stated
These cautious steps being taken by the government seem to be in the right direction. The presence of the Army in Jammu and Kashmir is more for its primary task of guarding the borders rather than the counter terrorism role. In the event of any decrease in terrorist initiated activity, it is only proper to move out the Para-military forces and hand over more responsibility to the J&K Police. The proposed de-induction of Para-military troops should propel the State government towards increasing its efforts to put in place a modern, highly motivated and numerically adequate Police force which can face the challenges posed by divisive and anti national forces. An inability to do so will lead to a status quo ante with great loss of face. The Army, of course, has to stay active as long as attempts towards infiltration are on and there is confirmed intelligence about the existence of terrorist camps in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir.
With respect to the Naxal-hit areas, the Army’s reluctance for getting involved in active counter insurgency operations in the Naxal affected areas is well documented. This new development has come about basically because there exists a need to trained troops of both the State police and the Paramilitary cadre before they are sent in to combat this menace. At this stage the active participation of the army is nothing more than farfetched conjecture. Nevertheless, whether strategic or routine, the army’s move into Bastar is significant, both in terms of bringing up the economy of the area, as well as shifting focus to this trouble torn region.
Undoubtedly, we are witnessing some activity in positive direction now only time will tell whether the strategy is successful or not.