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Azad for consensus on troop withdrawal
M K Bangroo in Jammu
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March 27, 2007 19:48 IST

Asserting that the safety of people cannot be endangered, Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad on Tuesday called for a consensus decision by the state's political parties on the 'most sensitive issue' of reduction and redeployment of security forces.

Even as the central leadership of the Congress was trying to bring about a truce on the issue between him and Mufti Mohammed Sayeed, patron of its ally People's Democratic Party in the state government, Azad said that all political parties in the state had to be 'taken on board.'

The regional, national and international ramifications of any troop withdrawal can also not be overlooked, the chief minister asserted in an interview to PTI in Jammu.

"My first and last responsibility as the chief minister of the state is to protect the life and property of every man, woman and child without any political consideration. I will also have to take all the political parties on board on this matter," he said.

The chief minister said the central leadership will have to consider his perceptions and those of various political parties on troop withdrawal to evolve a final consensus.

"I don't want political parties of the state to be divided for or against on this most sensitive issue, which will have greater political implications which will endanger the security and safety of the people," Azad said.

He was of the firm opinion that before withdrawal of security forces "we should be 100 per cent sure that things have really come to a stage where reduction of forces has become necessary."

Asked about PDP's demand for troop reduction citing his speech on the floor of the state Assembly, Azad said, "It is most unfortunate that PDP has selectively chosen one point out of entire speech made by me in the House to press the point."

Recalling his speech, the chief minister said he had only suggested a meeting of all political parties and that they give in writing that the security situation is similar to that of 1988 and now they don't require security around them anymore.

"Then, I will recommend the Centre within 24 hours to consider the withdrawal of security forces," Azad said, quoting his speech.

The chief minister noted that no such joint meeting of political leaders has taken place even six weeks after making this suggestion.

Chiding the PDP's approach, Azad said, "We should not make any wrong statement just to please a section of people and just to steal the headlines."

The chief minister said he had made it clear also on the floor of the House that 'withdrawal of forces sooner or later has to be done, but the time is not right to implement this in the present security situation.'

To a question on the much-publicized move of the Centre to constitute a committee for troop reduction after Sayeed's meetings with Central leaders, he reiterated that any decision on reduction of forces has to be seen in the backdrop of his statement in the assembly.

Asked about his recent meetings with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi and External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee, Azad said he had conveyed his perception that withdrawal of security forces should be done in such a manner that the violence should not again resurface or escalate in the state.

It was also conveyed to the central leadership that each political party in the state was wanting return of complete normalcy as soon as possible for which security forces have played a 'great role,' Azad said.

He said he had taken a number of steps in consultations with senior officers of the security forces for a relocation of personnel within the state and their vacating orchards, hotels, school buildings and other places.
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