Another step to demilitarisation?
The withdrawal of the CRPF from Baramulla town, 52 km north of Srinagar, on Tuesday is the second decisive step towards demilitarisation of the Kashmir Valley that Chief Minister Omar Abdullah has taken. Arun Joshi reports.india Updated: Jul 03, 2009 00:55 IST
The withdrawal of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) from Baramulla town, 52 km north of Srinagar, on Tuesday is the second decisive step towards demilitarisation of the Kashmir Valley that Chief Minister Omar Abdullah has taken. On January 14, the CRPF was ordered to be moved out of Srinagar.
During his visit to the Valley on June 11-12, Home Minister P Chidamabaram, too, had stated that the state police would play the primary role in maintaining law and order, and the CRPF would only support them.
While he has made no headway so far in initiating talks with the separatists or getting the Armed Forces Special Powers Act repealed, as the National Conference had promised in its election campaign, Abdullah has made a beginning at starting the process of demilitarisation.
Keen to avoid any confrontation with the centre, however, Abdullah is anxious not to term it as such. “It is not the beginning of demilitarisation,” he told HT categorically. “It is the beginning of a bigger role for the state police.”
“It is a relocation and re-assignment aimed at giving a bigger role to the J&K police and reducing our dependence on the central forces,” he said.
The initiative in Baramulla is an astute political move as well. For one, the CRPF’s removal has brought a tenuous peace to the town for the first time since Sunday evening when an agitation over the police’s alleged misbehaviour with a local woman. For another, the CRPF withdrawal enables Abdullah to steal a march over his rival People’s Democratic Party (PDP), which enjoys the image of being much more fiercely to Kashmiri interests than the National Conference.
But the PDP failed to bring about any significant demilitarisation while in power, in alliance with the Congress, from 2002 to 2008. It began harping on demilitarisation only after it had handed over power to Congress in November 2005.
However, total withdrawal is not going to be easy. According to army sources, there are still around 700 separatist militants in the state, who will engage in mayhem in the absence of sufficient security. The CRPF, for instance, has 58 battalions in the Valley — around 50,000 people.
In Baramulla the state armed police has replaced the CRPF. But the same is not possible across the entire Valley, since the entire armed police comprises only 18,720 people or 26 battalions.
Six companies make up a battalion in the state police; in the CRPF, the number is seven.