The Indian government says it could cut troops in Indian-administered Kashmir by one quarter. The region, which witnessed a violent separatist insurgency for nearly two decades, is one of the most heavily militarized in the world.
Home Secretary G.K. Pillai said in New Delhi Friday that the government plans to pull out 25 percent of the troops deployed in Indian Kashmir over the next 12 months.
"We hope that in populated areas, security forces should be minimum strength, and if possible, if we can manage with local police that would be most ideal situation," Pillai said.
The government had promised to explore the possibility of reducing troops in Kashmir last year after more than 100 people were killed in widespread protests. It was the worst violence witnessed in the region since it was wracked by a violent Muslim separatist insurgency.
The insurgency has abated, but the region continues to be restive.
As a result there is still a heavy and visible presence of soldiers across towns and cities in the region. The government does not disclose the exact number of troops deployed in Jammu and Kashmir, but there are an estimated 300,000 to half-a-million Indian troops.
Their withdrawal has been a long standing demand in Kashmir, where their presence is deeply resented by residents of the region. Observers say the troops fuel anger against Indian rule.
Pillai said that if there is peace in the region, and there is no violence, then the government will ensure that troop numbers are reduced and the army is used at the borders with Pakistan to prevent infiltration by Muslim militants.
"That will be one of the confidence-building measures that people don’t feel harassed by the over presence of security forces while they go about their daily lives," Pillai added.
Last year, the government removed 16 military bunkers from Srinagar, the summer capital of Kashmir. The government has also said it hopes to work out a political solution for the region within a few months.
Kashmir, India’s only Muslim majority region is divided between India and Pakistan and claimed by both countries. They have fought two wars over the region. A peace process which the neighbors began in 2004 has failed to find a solution to their dispute.