The Indian government announced unexpectedly on Thursday to reduce troop levels in Indian-administered Kashmir due to the improved situation in the state.
"In recognition of the improvement in the situation in the state, the government has decided to reduce deployment of troops this winter," Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said in a statement.
The statement came after a meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS), the highest security policy planning body of the government, and ahead of his planned visit to Kashmir next Wednesday.
However, Singh said there would be no relaxation in keeping vigil on the borders and troops would be redeployed if required.
"We cannot afford to relax our vigil. We are aware that infiltration attempts from across the border and the LOC (Line of Control) continue and the infrastructure of terrorism in the shape of training camps and launching bases remains intact," he said.
Explaining the background of the decision, Manmohan Singh said, "During the past several months, the Indian Army and other security forces deployed in the state of Jammu and Kashmir have achieved success in bringing about an improvement in the security situation in the state."
Pakistani Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz is scheduled to visit India on Nov. 22 in his capacity as the chairman of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) and the Kashmir peace process is expected to figure during his talks in New Delhi.
The two countries have also scheduled a series of meetings on various outstanding issues, including a bus service between the divided parts of Kashmir, and nuclear and conventional confidence-building measures in November-December.
Pakistan welcomes India's troop-cut plan
Pakistani Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz on Thursday welcomed the statement by his Indian counterpart Manmohan Singh regarding reduction of troops in the Indian-held Kashmir, the official Associated Press of Pakistan (APP) reported.
The prime minister told APP that he had not seen the statement "but reduction of troops by any country is welcome."
Responding to India's decision, Pakistani Foreign Ministry spokesman Masood Khan said, "It's a good decision in the right direction and will help the peace process."
The decision will help push forward the peace process between the two countries, said Khan.
The people of Kashmir should also be included in the ongoing dialogue process between India and Pakistan for durable and just solution of the issue, he said.
The spokesman said Islamabad will give a formal response to India's decision later.
Pakistan and India, the two South Asian neighbors, have fought three wars, two of which were over the Kashmir dispute.
(Xinhua News Agency November 12, 2004)