No talks without peace, Omar to Valley hardliners
New Delhi, August 2
At a high-level meeting chaired by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and attended by J&K Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, apart from the members of the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS), consensus emerged that a prerequisite for any initiative in the state — political or administrative — would require people to stop taking the law into their hands, stop attacking government property and allow “some” normalcy to return.
“We have locked ourselves into a cycle of violence where protests are leading to more and more casualties. This violence must end. As much as one wishes not to have to resort to force, when people take law into their hands, consequences are tragic and we have to prevent those consequences. Curfews, wherever announced, will have to be imposed strictly. There’s no other way around this,” said Omar. He rushed to the National Capital this morning to meet the PM, who chaired the second CCS meeting in less than 24 hours. The meeting was attended by ministers of home, defence, finance and external affairs.
Later in a hurried interface with the press (where he looked terribly flustered, threatening to leave if silence wasn’t maintained in a jam-packed hall at J&K House), Omar said Kashmir was inherently a political problem and would require a political package more than an economic one. In the line of fire for failing to control violence in the Valley, which claimed 30 lives since June, the CM spoke today of how the high-level meeting with the Centre discussed the possibilities of rolling out the long-pending political package for Kashmir. “But normalcy is a precursor for that,” he reminded the Valley.
For the record, Omar today admitted that security forces in the Valley were “stretched to the limit”. He has asked the Home Ministry for more forces, especially Rapid Action Force, which is trained to tame violently protesting mobs.
So far as deaths caused in firing by the forces go, the CM defended the forces saying they had exercised maximum possible restraint in dealing with the protestors, who must realise violence feeds upon itself. “Restraint can’t be one-sided. We are even exploring the possibility of reopening channels of communication with the Hurriyat if they can help to end Kashmir’s cycle of violence but for any real traction in initiatives, for a sustained engagement, some normalcy is vital.”
Omar, however, didn’t blame anyone for the typical violence that has come to trouble the Valley of late. “Some sections have been fishing in troubled waters but I don’t think any particular group is in a position to manage or direct the protests of this kind,” he insisted.
Asked to spell out the “political package” to be delivered if normalcy returned to the Valley, the CM referred to the withdrawal of Armed Forces Special Powers Act, “footprint” of security forces, rehabilitation of youngsters across LoC who want to come back, financial relief for victims of Valley’s troubles and engagement of youth in the state’s progress to end unemployment.
Omar, in fact, termed unemployment as the second biggest challenge for Kashmir after violence, adding that unemployment couldn’t be tackled under the prevailing circumstances.
Punish those instigating unrest in Valley: Sonia
New Delhi, August 2
Sonia, whose party is a coalition partner in the Omar Abdullah government, said, "We are pained by the upsurge in violence in Jammu and Kashmir recently. My deepest condolence to those innocent men and women who were killed in this mindless violence.”
In a message to party cadres in the Congress mouthpiece ‘Sandesh’, she said, “I understand there are elements with ulterior motives that are instigating these attacks. These elements must be identified and brought to book.”
She also said there should be a continued push on the development agenda. “Ultimately, development, which creates jobs and livelihood opportunities, is the key instrument against terrorism and violence.”
Meanwhile, the Congress steered clear of questions whether Abdullah should be replaced in view of the situation. “This is a sensitive situation… Right now, the Centre and the state should act in unison,” party spokesperson Jayanti Natarajan said when asked if Abdullah should be replaced.
Describing the situation as a “matter of grave concern”, Natarajan said Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was seized of the matter. “We would like to emphasise that the people of Jammu and Kashmir should not fall prey to the machinations from across the border,” she added.