The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Pullback signal after Mission Unknown

New Delhi, Oct. 16: The boys will be back home by Diwali.

The government today virtually asked the army to pullback from the international border with Pakistan but was still trying to tease out a justification for, first, ordering the largest-ever military mobilisation and, now, 10 months later, ordering the troops back to the barracks.

The Indian Army has a strength of 12 lakh. Roughly 10 lakh were involved in the mobilisation. Outside Jammu and Kashmir, the total number of troops at staging posts is about 7 lakh. The air force and the navy were also deployed in force. The Border Security Force was put under the operational command of the army.

At a conservative estimate, some 15 lakh families across the country have been missing their own for nearly a year. Their men have been manning the borders from the snowy heights of Kashmir to the marshy Rann. In Kashmir, there is still no possibility of a reduction in troop levels immediately.

“The Cabinet Committee on Security, after deliberation upon and examination of all aspects of the continued deployment of our forces along the border, has decided that as the Armed Forces have, with great distinction, achieved the objectives assigned to them, thus upholding all the traditions of the Indian military, they now be asked to redeploy from positions on the international border with Pakistan, without impairing their capacity to respond decisively in any emergency,” the government said in a statement after a meeting of the CCS late this evening.

Defence minister George Fernandes has instructed the chiefs of the army, navy and the air force to issue orders in consonance with the decision.

Asked if Operation Parakram — the codename for mobilisation — was officially over, Fernandes said: “The statement says the forces will redeploy all along the international border.”

Asked if the forces are redeploying to peace stations, Fernandes said: “That is up to the army to decide.” Fernandes said he was not aware if a pullback of troops was also taking place on the Pakistani side.

The CCS made it clear that there will be no reduction in troop levels in Jammu and Kashmir along the Line of Control.

The defence minister did not enumerate the objectives set out for the mobilisation.

“The army was deployed after Parliament was attacked by cross-border terrorists. It was inevitable. They have carried out their responsibilities. Other forces are also involved in the fight against terrorism,” Fernandes said.

“The successful conclusion of the elections in Jammu and Kashmir was one of the objectives.” This was never stated when Operation Parakram was set rolling. Even two months ago, Fernandes had said that troop deployment and the polls were separate issues.

Earlier today, the Prime Minister chaired a meeting of the National Security Advisory Board and the National Security Council. Members of the NSAB said they reached a consensus that “the continued deployment of the forces has a cost, not only in financial terms, but also in terms of the burden on the forces, that do not have corresponding gains”, one member said.

This means NSAB members by and large felt that Operation Parakram was now a drain — one estimate puts the cost at Rs 7,000 crore (roughly equal the cost of 66 Advanced Jet Trainers the air force has been desperately wanting).


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