AFSPA ROW:What is this fuss all about?

By SARLA HANDOO

New Delhi (Syndicate Features): Did Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah really want to hit both Congress and the PDP by raking up the issue of partial revocation of Armed Forces Special Powers Act? While the debate is raging, it is interesting to note how vital matters of security are becoming subjects of public debate due to narrow political interests.

On the face of it, it appears that Omar wanted to push the Congress to a corner which had started demanding the post of Chief Minister on a rotational basis, after Omar completes 3 years as Chief Minister in January next. The party went to the extent of projecting Saif-ud-din-Soz as the next Chief Minister at its Sangrama rally. At the same time, Omar wanted to target the PDP, which has launched a systematic campaign in favour of repealing the AFSPA and the Disturbed Areas Act from the state.

If that is the case, how far has Omar been able to achieve his objective? The Congress at the state level made it clear that it had not been consulted on the issue. Soz even expressed his displeasure and demanded better coordination between the National Conference and the Congress, the two ruling alliance partners.

Omar’s reported argument that as head of the Coordination Committee, Soz himself should have convened a meeting to discuss the issue, does not seem to be convincing. At the central level the party leaders seem to be less than sure about the stand they ought to take on the issue.   While the AICC in-charge Mohan Prakash endorsed the views expressed by Saif-ud-din–Soz, the party spokesman Abhishek Singhvi maintained distance by saying that the issue had to be resolved in consultation with all stakeholders.

Union minister Ghulam Nabi Azad took a cautious line by saying that the matter should be best left to the wisdom of the Chief Minister and the Union Home Minister. The PDP has been provided with ammunition to project AFSPA as anti- people to serve its short term goals.

It is clear that there are differences between the state and the central government on the issue with Defence Minister AK Antony publicly opposing even the partial lifting of the Act. He said he would not allow the Centre to take any step which would dampen the morale of the security forces in the state.

Why then did Omar go public and even set a time schedule by saying that the partial withdrawal will take place in a few days and well before the ‘Darbar Move’ i.e. shifting of offices from Srinagar to Jammu for the winter. The offices have since opened in Jammu, but the debate is still raging.

To be fair to Omar, he seems to have been prompted to announce his decision by what he claims the support he received from the Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram and the views expressed in the meetings of the Cabinet Committee on Security.  But clearly, he acted in haste.  More so when the two committees set up by him had recommended that the time had not arrived to withdraw the Act from even areas where Army has not acted for several years. What then was the purpose of setting up the committees if their recommendations were not to be heeded?

At the political level, the BJP has warned the government against diluting the law which would only result in increase in the terrorist activities in the state. This reaction is on the expected lines.

AFSPA has been in force in the state for about two decades now. It gives powers to the army to shoot at sight and arrest people without warrant while tackling the terrorists. But this is being viewed as violation of human rights.

The Army on the other hand says it needs the legal cover to be able to act in difficult situations against the terrorists. What seemed disgusting was the charge levelled by the National Conference Chief Spokesman and Farooq Abdullah’s brother, Dr.  Mustafa Kamal that the grenade blasts in Srinagar soon after the announcement by Omar had been carried out by the army itself. Though the party Chief Farooq Abdullah has taken action against him, the damage has been done.

Omar wants to lift the act from two districts in Kashmir-Srinagar and Budgam and two districts of Jammu and Sambha. By way of justification it is being said that in 8 of the 9 major terrorist attacks in Srinagar this year the state police managed to deal with the situation without army support.

If the state police are in a position to handle terrorists why should it be objected to by others? All that needs to be ensured is that the police indeed are in a position to deal with the terrorists and the step is not taken to score points against political opponents. There can be no bigger disservice to the state than linking security related issues with politics.

The Chief Minister has so far been adamant that ‘no’ is not an option to his decision. He says he has the authority to lift the Act, giving an impression that he could do so despite Army’s opposition and without Centre’s concurrence.

Whether he can do it or not is a moot constitutional point but presuming that he can, the point is whether he should do it at this point of time. He needs to consider seriously if such a step will really lead to confidence building as claimed, or it will help terrorists to reorganise and strengthen themselves bringing to naught all the improvement in situation that has taken place in the state.

It would be foolish to shut our eyes to the fact that terror infrastructure in Pakistan is still in place and infiltration from across the Line of Control is continuing.

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