Cabinet Secretary Ajit Kumar Seth, Defence Secretary Shashikant Sharma and Home Secretary RK Singh were taken by surprise when the Army's Northern Command told them that there had been no consultations on the subject of revocation of the AFSPA even once in 2011. The chief minister's declaration was totally unilateral, the three top secretaries to the Government of India were told.
The central team was told that it was way back in February that the Army had sent its views on the AFSPA and stressed the need to continue the Act's provisions in the state to enable Army troops to operate under a legal cover. But there were no consultations between the various stakeholders, defence ministry sources said.
In fact, during his visit to Kashmir, the defence secretary was given a separate three-hour presentation by the Army's top brass in Srinagar on the current security scenario in J&K.
In it, the army made it clear that the situation was under control and in parts of the state it appeared almost normal, but opposed any dilution or revocation of the AFSPA for the following reasons:
- The situation was still fragile and the gains made in the summer of 2011 needed to be built upon
Unless a similar situation prevailed over the next two summers, it cannot be said that normalcy has returned to the Valley.
Lifting of the AFSPA from some selected pockets will result in terrorists seeking shelter in such areas and rebuilding their bases. Tactical space once conceded to terrorists, will be extremely difficult to regain.
All lines of communication pass through population centres and have to be kept open at all cost, and therefore the Army needs to operate under the AFSPA in these areas.
The Army garrison/strategic assets are spread over in population centres and de-notification will render them vulnerable to terrorist action and hence require separate security arrangements.
The Army carries out seamless operations across districts of J&K. Partial revocation of the AFSPA will hinder such seamless operations and hence, was impractical.
Even if the situation worsens in areas where the AFSPA has been revoked, politically it is unlikely that the decision can be reversed, or at best it will take months. The experience of Manipur is a pointer in this regard.
Abdullah's unilateral announcement caught the Centre by surprise although he insists that Home Minister P Chidambaram was in the loop on this issue and backs him fully.
Perhaps taken aback by the tough stand taken by the Army on the issue of AFSPA, Abdullah now says he only announced an intention and not a decision when he made that speech on October 21, declaring that "AFSPA will be revoked in the next few days."
Given the polarised opinion on the subject, the last word on the issue is clearly not yet uttered.