- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 23, 2002

JAMMU, India Long periods of deployment on the Kashmir border in a heightened state of alert has been leaving the Indian soldiers fatigued and mentally stressed, senior military and civilian officials say.

The condition of the troops has also resulted in a decline in operational efficiency and failure to stop Pakistan-based militants from entering Kashmir, the officials said.

The massive troops buildup, called Operation Parakram, or Courage, began shortly after terrorists attacked the Indian Parliament in New Delhi on Dec. 13 last year. India blamed Pakistan-based Islamist militants for the attack, but Pakistan has denied the charge.

Both India and Pakistan have massed nearly a million troops on their borders. Last week, India decided to pull out some troops from the border, and Pakistan responded with a similar pledge. Both countries, however, have ruled out pulling out from Kashmir.

Signs of mental stress are emerging among soldiers on counterinsurgency duty in Kashmir, where more than 4,000 security personnel, mostly from army and paramilitary, have died since the current phase of militancy began in 1989.

A senior army general said there has been a 200 percent rise in stress-related cases of indiscipline in the army since the current buildup began 10 months ago. "Clearly this shows that the troops are under stress due to prolonged deployment and long separation from home," he said.

Defense Minister George Fernandes told Parliament recently that "combat stress" brought on by fighting insurgents in Jammu and Kashmir state had led to more than 20 incidents of "fragging" the deliberate killing of a colleague by a soldier since 1997.

A senior army officer in Kashmir said many more "fragging" instances are covered up for reasons of insurance payments and out of respect for the dead soldiers' families.

A doctor at an army hospital in Udhampur, in Kashmir, said an increasing number of soldiers in Kashmir are suffering from hypertension, high blood pressure and excessive sweating. Many of them continue to show signs of mental disorders months after being relieved of their duties in Kashmir.

Doctors at the army's Research and Referral Hospital in New Delhi say a combination of high-altitude living and constant stress is sapping the sex drive of many soldiers who report "marriage problems" on return from their tours of duty.

"In most cases we are treating them successfully with a combination of drugs and psychotherapy," said Col. P. Madhusudhanan, an army urologist at the hospital.

After an operational tenure of about two years in Kashmir, each army unit typically moves to a "peace location" for a similar duration, during which troops get a chance to live with their families.

Since the mid-1990s, however, large numbers of troops are not getting this break because of the rise in insurgency in Kashmir. They instead are prematurely recycled into operations.

Letters from some soldiers to their families, intercepted by army authorities, point to the level of trauma.

"I no longer want to continue the service, I am getting tired. We are trained in conventional war to guard our country against a foreign army. But here we are forced to fight an unconventional war against the insurgents who are sneaking in quietly and can strike at any place, any moment," one junior army officer wrote to his wife early this year.

"Courage does not work here and it is heavily stressful. My tension is getting unbearable. For weeks I go without sleep when I find that I cannot leave the army and Kashmir that easily."

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