SRINAGAR, Jammu and Kashmir

An unspecified number of Indian soldiers deployed in Kashmir to fight the popular armed insurgency has been shifted to the border with China in Ladakh province, where the Chinese and Indian armies have been locked in a stand-off since March last year, a reputed Indian defense analyst said. 

“I can’t reveal the numbers but a sizable number of Rashtriya Rifles soldiers have been moved to the Line of Actual Control (LAC),” Pravin Sawhney, a former Indian army officer and editor of defense magazine, FORCE, told Anadolu Agency.

“The fact that they have been shifted to the LAC should be an indicator enough for the reason behind the move,” Sawhney added when asked what prompted the withdrawal and redeployment.

Sawhney has been advocating the withdrawal of the army from counterinsurgency operations in Kashmir so they could focus on border security and what he considers the bigger threat — the People’s Liberation Army. He has called for “making peace with Pakistan and seeking areas of cooperation with China.”

The LAC is the undefined border between India and China in the Ladakh region and currently the site of a military standoff between Indian and Chinese armies. India moved thousands of troops to the border after 20 Indian soldiers were killed in a clash with Chinese soldiers armed with nail-studded clubs in June last year. The casualties on the Chinese side were not known.

China is believed to be holding a slice of the territory in Ladakh, which was until August 2019 part of Jammu and Kashmir but was carved out as a separate Union Territory, a move China opposed.

The Rashtriya Rifles (RR) is the name given to the Indian army’s battalions that have been deployed in Jammu and Kashmir since 1990 to counter the popular anti-India insurgency that erupted the same year. The 67,000-strong force is the largest counterinsurgency force in the world, according to FORCE magazine. For comparison, Australia has only 57,050 active military personnel.

The RR troops are deployed in the entire Kashmiri rural hinterland. The number of poorly-armed militants tied against this force hovers between 200 and 300, according to the police data for the past few years.

Human rights and pro-freedom groups have accused the RR of committing grave human rights abuses, like torture, extra-judicial killings, and enforced disappearances of civilians. Recently, the Indian army initiated proceedings against a RR captain charged with killing three laborers and passing them off as “terrorists” on July 18 last year.

Sawhney also tweeted that India’s Chief of Army Staff General Manoj Mukund Naravane told him in an interview that “China is (now) the primary front. Rules of the game have changed.” Besides the redeployment of RR troops to Ladakh, Sawhney tweeted that the “overall RR headquarters are being moved from Delhi to Udhampur.” Indian army’s Northern Command is headquartered in Udhampur district of Jammu and Kashmir.

During the Kargil war in 1999, some RR troops participated in action against the Pakistani troops and the militants who had intruded into the Indian side in the Ladakh region.

“Most of the RR soldiers have been withdrawn from northern Kashmir. The situation in south Kashmir is not conducive for any withdrawal at the moment,” a police officer involved in counterinsurgency operations told Anadolu Agency on the condition of anonymity.

“Whether this shifting is temporary or permanent depends upon how the situation in Ladakh unfolds,” he said and added that the withdrawal has been going on for some time now.

Several telephone calls and messages from Anadolu Agency to the Srinagar-based security spokesman Col Rajesh Kalia went unanswered.

Disputed Region

Kashmir, a Muslim-majority Himalayan region, is held by India and Pakistan in parts and claimed by both in full. A small sliver of Kashmir is also held by China. Since they were partitioned in 1947, New Delhi and Islamabad have fought three wars – in 1948, 1965, and 1971 – two of them over Kashmir.

Also, in the Siachen glacier in northern Kashmir, Indian and Pakistani troops have fought intermittently since 1984. A cease-fire took effect in 2003. Some Kashmiri groups in Jammu and Kashmir have been fighting against Indian rule for independence, or for unification with neighboring Pakistan. According to several human rights organizations, thousands have reportedly been killed in the conflict since 1989.

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