India considers replacing some soldiers in restive Kashmir region with paramilitary forces

The disputed region is ruled by New Delhi and Islamabad in part but claimed by both in its entirety since Britain left the subcontinent in 1947

Women and schoolchildren walk past Indian soldiers on the outskirts of Srinagar, Kashmir. AFP
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New Delhi is considering a phased withdrawal of the army from some districts of Kashmir — the most militarised region in the world — more than three decades after an anti-India armed rebellion broke out in the Himalayan valley.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government reportedly intends to replace the army with paramilitary forces.

However, the army will still be stationed on the Line of Control — the line that divides the disputed region between India and Pakistan, the Indian Express reported.

Mr Modi’s government sent tens of thousands of additional army and paramilitary troops to Kashmir, which already had 500,000 armed personnel stationed there in 2019.

They arrived after India scrapped Article 370 of its constitution, which gave special powers to the restive region. The southern Indian side of Kashmir was subsequently brought under India's direct control.

Since then, India gradually increased its security presence in Kashmir as the arbitrary move led to a sharp increase in armed violence.

At least 44 killings — comprising 19 militants, 13 civilians and 12 members of the armed forces — occurred last year alone.

The Indian Express quoted a source who said the discussion to withdraw the army was at an advanced stage, and involved the federal Defence and Home Affairs ministries and the region's police force.

“The matter is under serious discussion at interministerial level and it is understood to be feasible,” a senior security establishment officer told the Indian Express.

“In a way, the decision has been taken and it is a matter of when it will be done. Ultimately, however, it will be a political call.”

It is proposed that the Central Reserve Police Force, a paramilitary unit, will take up the role of army units removed from the valley, and maintain law and order.

The army and the Central Reserve Police Force did not respond to The National’s requests for comment.

There are 130,000 Indian soldiers in the disputed region, with about 80,000 stationed at the Line of Control. In addition, hundreds of thousands of paramilitary and special police forces are also stationed across the valley.

Mr Modi’s government has claimed that New Delhi’s direct rule has helped bring normality to the region and that his government has done a better job in tackling militants, which it says are funded and supported by Islamabad.

The Kashmir region is ruled by India and Pakistan in part but claimed by both in its entirety since former colonial power Britain left the subcontinent in 1947.

The two countries have fought three wars over the region while a three-decade-long armed insurgency has claimed the lives of tens of thousands of people.

“Since the August 5, 2019 decisions, violence in the valley has steadily reduced,” a Home Ministry official said.

“Stone pelting has almost vanished and the law-and-order situation is largely under control. However, a large presence of the Indian army in the hinterland would sit oddly with claims of normalcy.”

Updated: February 20, 2023, 8:48 AM