Behind the scenes deals in Kashmir
We are often surprised, and sometimes a little disappointed, about an important story getting crowded out of the headlines by populist headlines. While the titillating Amanda Knox sex-crime headline has received impressive column inches, something else happened this week that has strategic importance, historic significance, and the potential for a massive change in regional balance of power. Unfortunately, this was very lightly reported. India has announced it will pull out its troops from the inhabited areas of the Kashmir. This marks the first time in 20 years India has withdrawn military presence, even in such a limited and politically symbolic way. Given that the disputed ownership of Kashmir is much of the friction between India and Pakistan, one can see that this is a momentous announcement.
While it may be just coincidental, call us a conspiracist by noting that Pakistan’s President Zadari and India Prime Minister Singh were both in Russia on separate agendas, but allegedly managed to meet together regardless. Combine this with the presence of the US Under-Secretary of State, William Burns, in India at the time of the announcement and we sense the hand of US diplomacy in the outcome. If tension between India and Pakistan can be reduced, it may allow Pakistan to reduce its massive military presence at the Pakistan-India border and reassign those forces to internal security combating the Taliban and other insurgents. It is an impressive feat to break the Kashmir stalemate, even if only temporarily and for the purpose of the Pakistan internal emergency, and it is a step that should benefit the US agenda in region. This development made barely an impression in the US media, which sadly once again indicates the main stream media’s descent into the world on infotainment as opposed to news. Thankfully there are still some newspapers reporting on the important:
India has about 500,000 soldiers and paramilitary troops in Kashmir, which is claimed in its entirety by India and Pakistan and has caused two of the three wars between them since they won independence from Britain in 1947.
India’s army and paramilitary police were deployed across Kashmir after an uprising against Indian rule began in 1989, and are still responsible for security in the region. However, Mr Chidambaram said that the local police, under the command of the state government, would soon take over security operations in towns, cities and other inhabited areas.
Paramilitary police, which come under the federal Home Ministry, would guard VIPs and sensitive buildings, and would back up police when necessary, but would not patrol the streets.
The army would continue to be responsible for “conventional defence” along the disputed border, preventing infiltration by militants, and combating terrorism. “But we would like the army to do it in areas far away from towns and cities,” Mr Chidambaram said. “In inhabited areas, in towns and cities, the primary responsibility for maintaining law and order and public order must always rest with the state police.