Need More To Assuage Anger, Say Political Parties In The Valley8 September 2010
Srinagar: As the Centre works on a special Eid peace package for Kashmir, political parties in the Valley have welcomed it with caution. The Cabinet Committee on Security will meet on Friday to consider the lifting of AFSPA from four districts and other measures to get some normalcy back to the state. (Read: Areas in Kashmir under Armed Forces Special Powers Act could be reduced) On Wednesday, Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister, Omar Abdullah, met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in Delhi - his second one-on-one with the PM in less than a month. Stating that 'status quo is not an option,' Abdullah wants to end the cycle of violence in his state with an economic and political offering that coincides with Eid. While the ruling National Conference says diluting or amending the Armed Forces Special Powers Act or AFSPA in some areas would be a good beginning, the main Opposition party- the People's Democratic Party (PDP) - says the package should not be seen only as cosmetic. And both parties believe the Centre needs to follow it up with more measures to assuage the anger in the Valley and respond to the aspirations of the people. 'It's a good beginning if they are diluting or amending the Arms Force Special Powers Act. It has been our endeavour and effort, I mean National Conference's effort, that this should be done. It was way back in the 1990s, when Kashmir was hit by militancy that there was an extraordinary situation where you needed extraordinary acts like Armed Forces Special Powers Act. Now it has declined, so the government of India even now...let's accept...that even if it is late but now if beginning has been made, we should all cooperate and see that Kashmir comes out of this turmoil,' says Mehboob Beg of the ruling National Conference. Senior PDP leader Nizzam-ud-din Bhatt adds, 'We will have to see whether it addresses the aspirations, reduces the anger or is received well by the population which is up there against the dispensation and up against a system. This should not be seen as a cosmetic thing. There has to be a sustained serious exercise which addresses the real aspirations and demands and which beats the dissent. Actually, all of us will be seen as facilitators. No doubt we are ready to cooperate but this should not be a compulsive consensus. A compulsive consensus will hardly matter. What matters is assuaging the real feelings of the people.' Since June, when teenager Tufail Mattoo was killed, J&K has been besieged by daily violence and near-constant curfew. More than 60 civilians have died in clashes with security forces, mainly during the stone-pelting protests that fill the streets. What Abdullah wants to include in his Eid peace offer is a more 'humane' version of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act or AFSPA, often criticized for being 'draconian' because of the widespread powers it gives to the Army - it guarantees that Army officers can operate without fear of arrest by civil authorities. Home Minister P Chidambaram is also in favour of amendments to the Act. However, the Army says the Act provides it with essential legal protection, a stand backed fully by Defence Minister AK Antony. With the Valley heading into winter, the infiltration by militants, like every year, is expected to decrease, allowing the government to consider withdrawing AFSPA from areas where militancy has waned. AFSPA, sources say, may be withdrawn from the districts of Srinagar, Ganderbal, Jammu and Samba. Abdullah also wants to push for the release of political prisoners, new employment schemes, swift action against human rights violations, and an all-party meeting on Kashmir, followed by an all-party delegation's visit to his state. This will be discussed at Friday's Cabinet Committee on Security meeting. A top source says the Kashmir crisis will be discussed 'threadbare.' What's likely to dominate the agenda is whether to amend AFSPA. Those in favour of changes, sources say, would like to ensure that warrants are secured in advance for arrests, and that grievance cells are able to address citizens' complaints against the Army. The Defence Ministry's view, however, is that while these amendments are acceptable in a scenario where the Army is called in to aid civil authority -for example, in the case of riots and civil unrest - they are too restricting in Kashmir where the Army has to take on well-trained, heavily-armed fighters.