Cen­tral team nixes Omar Ab­dul­lah move, stays re­moval of Armed Forces Act

India Today - - NATION - By Bhavna Vij-aurora AP PHOTO

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.”

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