PM KEEPS ARMYIN VALLEY
Central team nixes Omar Abdullah move, stays removal of Armed Forces Act
The high-level Central team led by Cabinet Secretary Ajit Kumar Seth, which visited Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) on October 23, has given its report to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh saying that the debate over Armed Forces Special Powers Act ( AFSPA), 1958, should be put on the back burner and the focus should be on improving governance and development of the state.
A loud and clear signal from the Prime Minister’s Office ( PMO) and the strong reaction from Congress—al-
“We hope a situation does emerge in future where AFSPA is not necessary or is restricted only to some areas.” ARUN JAITLEY Leader of Opposition in the Rajya Sabha
liance partner in the state—forced Chief Minister Omar Abdullah to defer the decision to withdraw the controversial AFSPA from selected areas of the state. The districts selected for removal of AFSPA and Disturbed Areas Act ( DAA), 1992, are Srinagar (barring cantonment areas like Badamibagh) and Budgam in Kashmir, and Jammu and Samba in Jammu division.
Home Minister P. Chidambaram was on board with Abdullah over the decision to withdraw the Act. Even the Prime Minister was in favour of partial withdrawal of AFSPA as a confidence-building measure. However, the army and defence ministry continued to express reservations about it.
Abdullah’s unilateral announcement to withdraw AFSPA and DAA on October 21 caught both the state Congress and the army by surprise. J&K Congress President Saifuddin Soz publicly complained that the Chief Minister should have consulted them. It was the feedback from the Cabinet Secretary to the Prime Minister that made Abdullah put AFSPA withdrawal on hold. “All stakeholders, including the army, and the ministries of defence and home, have to be on board for the decision to be implemented. AFSPA being a Central legislation, the decision cannot be taken by the state unilaterally,” explains a PMO official.
The Central panel’s report says that the state needs infrastructure development, economic progress and growth, and that it should not
“unnecessarily embroil itself in avoidable debate over AFSPA”.
The report is also a reflection on the state’s governance as it found that the various ongoing infrastructure development programmes and projects in the state, including the Rs 30,000 crore Prime Minister’s Reconstruction Plan, were lagging behind with major cost overruns.
During its two-day visit, Seth’s team held consultations with Governor N.N. Vohra, General Officer Commanding-in-chief Northern Command Lt-general K.T. Parnaik and his three Corps Commanders posted in Kashmir, and other state functionaries to review the security situation and implementation of ongoing flagship development programmes and welfare schemes. It was after the review that the team felt governance has to take precedence and there is a need for constant monitoring to ensure timebound completion of all projects. The
AFSPA debate, it felt, could wait. The army and the Ministry of Defence have been strongly opposing the withdrawal of AFSPA and DAA. Their argument is based on the Manipur model, where the situation in seven Assembly segments of Imphal has worsened after AFSPA was lifted in 2004. “The insurgents committed acts of violence in other parts of the state and then took refuge in the areas where AFSPA had been withdrawn,” claims a security official.
The security establishment also believes that whatever gains have been made in J&K will be lost if AFSPA is removed. “The army has anyway not operated in Srinagar city since 2005. Budgam and Ganderbal are the main infiltration routes. They form the flanks of Srinagar, and need to be protected,” an official explains.
Leader of Opposition in the Rajya Sabha Arun Jaitley also makes a strong argument for continuation of
AFSPA in J&K. He says the situation warranting withdrawal of the Act has not arrived yet: “We seriously hope that a situation does emerge in future where the applicability of this law is either not necessary or is restricted only to some areas.”