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Rediff.com  » News » Omar-Army meeting showed chasm between them on AFSPA

Omar-Army meeting showed chasm between them on AFSPA

November 10, 2011 18:38 IST
Relations between Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah and the Army plunged to a new low on Wednesday when the two sides refused to discuss each other's proposals on the issue of revoking the controversial Armed Forces Special Powers Act from select areas in the state.

The crucial meeting of the Unified Command HQ, presided over by Abdullah, lasted over three hours. However, it only witnessed presentations by every stakeholder -- the state government, the Army, heads of paramilitary forces in Kashmir and intelligence agencies -- but no discussions, sources attending the meeting told rediff.com.

While the Army – the largest stakeholder in the security set-up -- made the longest pitch, others also gave reasons for and against the withdrawal of the Act.

Essentially, the army told the gathering that despite a peaceful summer in 2011, conditions are not ripe to lift the Act. It put forward several cogent reasons for not doing so. Among them:

  • In CI/CT (counter-insurgency, counter-terrorist operations), there are no isolated areas of stability An intricate web of activities determines a grid. Just like there is a CI grid, there exists a terrorist grid. Ideological support from one area, leadership from another, warlike stores from a third and planning in the fourth area makes a grid, just like it happened in the recent Delhi high court blast case. Therefore the AFSPA cannot be removed just because a perception exists that peace prevails in an isolated area.
  • There is a misconception that the Army does not operate in Badgam district -- one of the areas that the state government is bent upon removing the AFSPA from. There is a "passive domination" exercise constantly going on this district. The Army has 15 operating bases, one formation HQ, two Rashtriya Rifles units and strategic assets of Srinagar air base. It is the army's responsibility to secure that funnel and the periphery of the airport/airfield. And to do all that Army needs to operate under the umbrella of AFSPA even if its operations are largely at night and low-key.
  • Army convoys to Ladakh and to the Line of Control in Kupwara and Uri sectors pass through Badgam. These convoys need Army protection.
  • In Srinagar itself, the Badami Bagh cantonment and the Kunmuh petroleum depot remain the most potent target for terrorists. There are smaller locations like Haft Chinar and Tatoo ground in the middle of Srinagar  where they have to dominate the peripheral areas by constant patrolling.

The Army also reminded the meeting that there are no signs available that Pakistan has given up its proxy war in Kashmir. The terrorist infrastructure across the LoC is intact; attempts to push in well-armed and well-equipped terrorists have gone up manifold despite snow almost making it impossible to climb the Himalayan passes.

Despite such an exhaustive briefing, Abdullah reportedly said at the end of the meeting that 'No' is not an option on the question of lifting the AFSPA from select areas, to which the Army leadership reportedly said: "We are not saying 'No', only 'Not yet'."

Abdullah, however, is reported to have reluctantly agreed to further discussions on the subject, leaving the decision hanging for an indeterminate period.

RS Chauhan in New Delhi