As per recent reports, the Union government is considering a phased withdrawal of Indian Army from the hinterland of the Kashmir Valley and replace it with Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel. The report says the plan has been in the making for around two years and is at an “advanced stage” now with the involvement of the Ministry of Defence and Home Affairs along with the military and J&K Police. However, the final call is yet to be taken and the plan is still in the deliberative phase for now.
Why removal of Army from J&K is being mooted?
- Decreased violence — The government claims that terrorist violence incidents and killing of security personnel in J&K have reduced by almost 50 per cent since August 5, 2019 (when the J&K’s special status was scrapped), compared with the same period before it.
- Stone pelting has almost vanished and the law-and-order situation is largely under control.
- The government thus wishes to “make these developments visible” by reducing the presence of the Army in the hinterland.
- Manpower pressure in the Army — The two-year freeze on recruitment during Covid-19 has led to a shortage of around 1,20,000 soldiers, and there are no plans to bridge the gap through additional recruitment.
- The manpower problem is exacerbated by the enhanced deployment of troops along the LAC to handle the crisis that erupted in 2020 in Eastern Ladakh.
- Any reduction in internal security duties thus gives the Army an opportunity to right-size its force structure.
- This would also come as a relief to the Army as its operational commitments have increased.
- Weakened external factors — Pakistan had been providing immense support to terror activities in J&K in the past, but its ability to influence the situation today stands diminished.
- This is a result of India’s strong response to terrorist acts backed by Pakistan and the disturbed political, economic, and internal security in Pakistan today.
Best plan of action to remove army deployment in J&K –
- The Army could be withdrawn in a phased manner, starting with a few districts in Kashmir, with responsibility for counter-terror operations and law and order being handed over to the CRPF and the J&K police.
- Handing over areas to the CRPF should be done in a phased The start could be made in the Jammu region, where the CRPF takes over the complete responsibility for counter-terror operations. A few RR units could be also kept as a reserve for any contingency that may arise.
- After the stabilisation of the CRPF deployment in the Jammu region, the second phase could be the handover of the Kashmir hinterland to the CRPF, with the bulk of RR units being disbanded, except for a few that could act as reserves.
Significance of phased withdrawal in J&K –
- Phased withdrawal is being suggested for two primary reasons as follows —
- The Army, CRPF, and J&K police work in synergy, with each force bringing its unique capabilities to the operations.
- The Army includes not only the highly trained soldiers but also the logistics, communication, engineering, and medical support that is integral to the organisation.
- In the absence of the Army, this capability void could be filled up by initial deployment of CRPF in the Jammu region.
- This could also provide valuable lessons before they take up responsibility in the Kashmir valley.
- The phased deployment would also ensure that India’s most experienced counter-terrorism force for J&K i.e., RR is not quickly disbanded. It would also ensure that that the situation is stabilised before we lose this capability.
What other issues need to be tackled?
- It remains unclear how the army can begin a pull-out from the Kashmir Valley without initiating any de-escalatory measures.
- For instance, selective removal of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) or the draconian Public Safety Act, which allows the detention of any individual for up to two years.
- AFSPA gives sweeping powers to search premises and arrest individuals without warrants, on the basis of “reasonable suspicion”.
- Moreover, assembly elections have not been held in the state since 2014. Local politicians are arguing that J&K cannot be regarded as peaceful enough for army withdrawal when normal political activity and full statehood for J&K remains suspended.
Way forward –
- The internal factors need to be addressed, for example, bringing the security situation under control, tackling radicalisation, meeting the aspirations of the people, bringing economic development, and resumption of political activity.
- However, handing over some districts in Kashmir on an experimental basis is not recommended.
- This is because it may create problems of operational integrity, intelligence collection, and command and control issues with neighbouring forces operating under different ministries.
The gains in J&K have come at great cost, and hence it would be sensible to conduct the pull out of the Army in a graduated and phased manner. Lessons from the past also indicate that violence levels alone are not an indicator of normalcy. While the security situation today is stable, it would be prudent to take some more time to tackle the other issues comprehensively. This would ensure that J&K remains stable, even without the presence of the Army.
Source – The Indian Express
QUESTION – What are the arguments for and against the decision of removing the army from Jammu and Kashmir, and what factors should be considered in making this decision?