India plans to reduce its security forces by a quarter in the Himalayan region of Kashmir to ease conditions for people in one of the world's most militarised areas, a top official said on Friday, 14th January 2011.
The unexpected announcement on Kashmir by Home Secretary G.K. Pillai is intended to rebuild fractured public goodwill after a violent uprising by young people in the Muslim-majority region last year.
New Delhi faced one of the biggest challenges to its grip on the divided and disputed territory last summer when more than 100 people were shot dead by security forces during violent demonstrations.
Speaking at a university seminar on Kashmir in the Indian capital, Pillai said the aim was "to pull out 25 percent of troops from populated areas in the next 12 months as a confidence-building measure."
The presence of hundreds of thousands of paramilitary and army troops in Kashmir -- India does not disclose official troop figures -- is seen by local politicians and observers as fuelling anger against rule from New Delhi.
Deaths due to the violence are at their lowest level in more than a decade.
Hardline Kashmiri separatist leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani rejected the government's plan and demanded the full withdrawal of Indian forces from the region.
Residents of Kashmir who spoke to AFP in the main city Srinagar had a mixed response to the withdrawal plan.
Farooq Ahmed Butt, a schoolteacher, said: "This is a positive step as it will pave way in building a conducive atmosphere for resolution of the Kashmir issue."
The majority of militant groups active in the Indian-administered part of the region favour its secession from India to neighbouring Pakistan.
In December 2009, the Indian army said it had pulled out 30,000 troops from Kashmir, one of the biggest military drawdowns in a decade.