M A I N   N E W S

Omar lobbies for removal of AFSPA
Meets Defence Minister Antony in Delhi; likely to call on PM today
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, November 13
A day after Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said the process of objectively reviewing the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) in Jammu and Kashmir had not been completed, Defence Minister AK Antony and state Chief Minister Omar Abdullah today discussed the issue in the National Capital.

The meeting assumed significance in view of Omar Abdullah’s growing impatience over lack of consensus on withdrawal of the controversial Act from select areas in the state.

Omar had virtually announced last month that the Act would be withdrawn ‘soon’. He later held that it was his ‘intention’ and not ‘decision’. But last week in Jammu, the Chief Minister reiterated that his government had the authority to take the controversial decision.

Defence Ministry spokesmen remained tight-lipped on the deliberations today but made no secret of their stand that a public debate on the sensitive subject was not desirable. The J&K Chief Minister is likely to call on the Prime Minister on Monday.

At today’s meeting, Antony is learnt to have told Omar that various possibilities and options had to be kept in mind, including a realistic assessment of the situation in the state, especially volatile conditions across the Line of Control (LoC).

“The dynamics have changed in the past 12 months due to the presence of Chinese troops in Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK) and militants making attempts at infiltrating across the LoC,” said sources while explaining what the Army thought about the matter.

The J&K Cabinet is slated to meet on November 17 where the issue of withdrawal of AFSPA could be on the agenda. A couple of days ago, Omar had asserted that he had the power to decide on the issue and the state Cabinet could recommend its withdrawal.

The view of the forces is that re-imposition of AFSPA would be next to impossible in case things take a turn for the worse. They instead favour a reduction in the ‘visibility’ of the forces. The Army has already voiced its apprehension that in case AFSPA is withdrawn from parts of the Kashmir Valley, convoys carrying supplies and equipment to the Kargil-Drass-Siachen areas could come under militant attack.

Two days ago, Defence Minister AK Antony had made it clear that there cannot be a public debate on the matter. Antony’s statement is being seen as a hint to Omar Abdullah to refrain from making statements on the subject in public.

Today, Antony and Omar met at the Defence Minister’s official residence. Antony has already made it clear that the Unified Command headed by Omar, with the northern Army Commander as one of its members, was empowered to take a decision on the demand for the withdrawal of AFSPA.

It implies that the view of the Army cannot be rejected by the Unified Command, which is a consultative body. No decision is taken without a general consensus in the Unified Command and in this case, there is no consensus.

Sources said the Defence Ministry has held consultations with the Home Ministry on AFSPA as security of the state is largely dealt with by the Army and not by the para-military forces which are under the Home Ministry.





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