SRINAGAR, Feb 2: India’s federal police force is preparing to spearhead the drive against rebels in Kashmir after border troops were ordered out of counter-insurgency operations.

India, which has been trying to put down a rebellion in the valley since 1989, announced last month that the Border Security Force (BSF) would now focus only on the borders.

BSF Inspector General Gurpreet Singh Gill, announcing the changed role of the force, hinted the withdrawal was linked to an ebbing of separatist violence.

But three days later, BSF Director General Ajai Raj Sharma said his troops were meant for the borders and that other forces could take on the rebellion.

While the total phaseout could take two to three years time, the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) will now be the new frontline against more than a dozen rebel groups in Kashmir.

“We are well prepared for the take-over,” Inspector General R.K. Sharma, a senior CRPF officer in the Kashmir Valley, told AFP.

“As far as weaponry and other equipment is concerned we are fully equipped to do the job,” he said. “By 2005 the CRPF will be the only paramilitary force available to tackle internal security.”

The Central Reserve Police Force had only a few battalions in Kashmir before the insurgency erupted in 1989, mostly to assist the state government. It was immediately was criticised for over-reacting, leading to needless civilian deaths.

The paramilitary BSF was called in when the violence broke out as it was better trained to deal with insurgencies.

In Kashmir, the CRPF’s primary job until now has been to guard vital installations such as airports, the civil secretariat, state assembly buildings and state-owned television and radio buildings.

On the ground, it has mostly assisted the army, the BSF and the special counter insurgency police known as the Special Operations Group, which the province’s new government wants to “reorient” after allegations of rights abuses.—AFP

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