Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah favours troop levels in the state to be reduced to numbers that existed prior to 1989, but says the Centre can't undertake this presently with upswing in infiltration attempts. "The first step is to reduce their (army) visibility and the second step is to start reducing numbers," Abdullah said asserting "and it will happen". "I would be satisfied with a troop level that existed prior to 1989. The response I've got from the defence minister, home minister -- I think they understand the need to balance peoples' requirements," Abdullah said in an interview to London-based Financial Times.
This is the first comment by Omar Abdullah on possible reduction of troops from the state, which is the demand being made by major opposition and separatist groups in the state. Though army refuses to divulge the numbers of troops citing security reasons, according to estimates the army had deployed more than two Corps in the state prior to 1989, the year the militancy took a serious turn in the Valley.
Making public his views on issues like resumption of the Indo-Pak dialogue, Abdullah said he believes New Delhi needs to be more pro-active and should go ahead on talks with the new democratic set up in Islamabad, but at the same time Abdullah said Pakistan has to play its part as well to meet India's concern expressed in the aftermath of the Mumbai terror attacks. However, Abdullah dwelt much of the time on the troops withdrawal issue, saying it can not be undertaken in immediate context as there had been numerous attempts in March and April this year to infiltrate large batches of militants from across the Line of Control.
"It was an apparent attempt to make their presence felt during the elections. But that hasn't happened," Abdullah said. "Clearly you cannot expect the government of India to withdraw the troops in the kind of numbers that is being suggested with the attempts at infiltration into Kashmir being what they are," the youngest-ever chief minister of the state said. "We've had very serious attempts of infiltration in March and April of this year and that obviously remains a concern. Levels of tension between India and Pakistan determine troop placements as well." Asked whether the infiltrators were stopped, he said: "Some made their way through; some were turned back at the line of control itself, and some were killed in encounters with the security forces. So it's been a mixed bag of results... There is speculation that there was one group of 100 plus (militants) that came in... all the way through... at a time when the passes were still covered in snow, and some of our posts had yet to be retaken after the winter vacation."