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J&K troop withdrawal in political cobweb

With the army signalling that the situation in J&K is improving, the PDP has stepped up its demand for troops withdrawal, report Jatin Gandhi and Arun Joshi.
Hindustan Times | By Jatin Gandhi and Arun Joshi, New Delhi/jammu
UPDATED ON OCT 05, 2007 04:13 AM IST

WITH THE army signalling that the situation in Jammu and Kashmir is improving, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) has stepped up its demand for troops withdrawal.

Party president Mehbooba Mufti met Union Defence Minister A.K. Antony recently and reiterated her party’s long-standing demand. On Thursday, Antony said “Kashmir is by and large peaceful” but remained non-committal on the PDP’s demand.

Referring to newly-appointed Army Chief General Deepak Kapoor’s statement that troop withdrawal has been ruled out at this stage, Mehbooba told HT: “On the day General J.J. Singh retired as Army Chief, he said things were fast getting normal. Within 24 hours, his successor says things are not normal. These are confusing signals. So, I met the defence minister to ask him what is happening to the plan for phased troop withdrawal.”

“Kashmir is a political problem; the army's role is limited. Now, that things are improving, withdrawal should have been a natural thing,” she added.

Mehbooba said security forces’ continued stay is creating problems for locals. “There have been incidents of security forces violating SC orders and breaking the law,” she said.

Referring to the Handwara incident, in which armymen allegedly ransacked a police station last week and beat up policemen, she said: “Troop reduction has become imperative vis-à-vis the latest developments in the Valley.”

Mehbooba also spoke to Antony about places like Zabarwan, Gulamarag and Sonmarag where security forces have allegedly constructed concrete strictures in violation of Supreme Court rulings.

The PDP president also asked Antony what had happened to the report of the panel formed to go into the matter of troop reduction.

The panel, headed by then Defence Secretary Shekhar Dutt, was formed in March after the regional party dropped hints of withdrawing from the coalition, prompting Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to intervene.

It examined the “reconfiguration and relocation” of troops and submitted its report in August but its findings have not yet been made public.

The defence minister confirmed the meeting had taken place but said “it is not appropriate for me at this stage to comment on the matter”. He added: “Compared to the past, the situation has improved a lot. Incidents of militancy are now happening in isolation.”

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