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Troops cut, without a word

Jammu, Nov. 5: At least three brigades of the army have been silently moved out of Jammu and Kashmir amid a tussle between the state’s coalition partners on troop cuts.

The withdrawals took place in the mountainous Rajouri district of Jammu from the army’s 27 Mountain Division. Each brigade has a strength of 4,000 to 5,000 soldiers.

Former chief minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed’s People’s Democratic Party has long wanted the withdrawals but chief minister Ghulam Nabi Azad and his Congress colleagues believe the move will weaken security.

The army was mum on the “silent withdrawals”. All that Lt Col S.D. Goswami, a de- fence spokesman in Jammu, would say was that the cuts were “routine affairs”.

But Bodh Raj, the head of Triath village, one of the many where the soldiers were positioned, confirmed that the troops had moved out over the past three to eight months. Two brigades were moved out earlier in the year and one was taken off three months ago.

Raj said an officer with whom the villagers “used to be in constant touch” said the soldiers were going back to Sikkim.

The withdrawals have created fears of militant strikes with Raj saying the villagers had become “soft targets”. The Rajouri zone, ringed by mountains and forests, is infested with insurgents waiting to carry out attacks.

Asked about the unannounced withdrawals, Mufti said the troops “had to move out sooner than later”. “There should be a limited role for the army in a democratic set-up and a large number of troops isn’t a good signal.”

Congress leaders did not comment on the withdrawals but chief minister Azad has earlier accused those demanding the pullout of “raising hollow political slogans”.

Political analyst Rekha Choudhary explained the party’s silence. “Elections are due in the state next year. The Congress can’t project itself as a loser over the issue (the tussle over troop cuts). It locked horns with a coalition partner which is, in fact, a political rival.”

Choudhary said the withdrawals were inevitable but it might have been done in a “silent and unannounced” way because of the Congress-PDP spat.

“The announced withdrawal will take place when it forms part of a clear strategy and confidence-building measures.”

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