Jammu And Kashmir: AFSPA Triggers Army-Omar Abdullah Turf War12 November 2011
Srinagar: It's a battle for survival in Jammu and Kashmir. With the showdown between the state government and the army over the armed forces (Jammu and Kashmir) special powers Act continuing, both sides are engaged in ramping up their defence on the issue. The political leadership, especially of the ruling National Conference (NC), perceives the army's opposition to the AFSPA as a threat. It was quite evident from the firm statement by chief minister Omar Abdullah that he would not take no for an option from the army. The CM's party colleagues allege that the army is undermining the elected leadership in the state as well as that of the country. However, the army rejects the accusation terming it a 'canard'. It apprehends that areas from where the law is lifted, will become safe havens for militants. NC insiders counter army's contention, saying the opposition to an elected government could undermine the achievements of the state government and weaken the country's political system. 'Nowhere else in the country, is the army allowed to take such confrontationist stands. We are a democracy and if you allow the army's interference in political issues, it will raise a question mark on the credibility of the political system,' Mehboob Beg, MP and senior NC leader, said. Beg said it is not only CM Omar who is seeking revocation of the AFSPA from some areas. 'It was a decision taken by the cabinet committee on security last year and it was discussed as part of the eight- point agenda for peace in Jammu and Kashmir. Moreover, the Union home minister has also backed the call for AFSPA review,' he said. BEG SAID: 'The army's stand will only strengthen the case of separatists who claim that the state assembly is powerless.' He cited the overwhelming 75 per cent turnout in the elections to the panchayats, the arrival of ten lakh tourists and five lakh yatris to the Kashmir Valley while arguing that it's an opportune time to withdraw the AFSPA, at least from some areas. But the army has a different take on the issue. 'It is not an issue of taking on the political leadership. Even the defence minister today said the final call on revoking the AFSPA from parts of Jammu and Kashmir rests with the Unified Command. Our position is clear if it is removed today from some areas, it would be very difficult tomorrow to implement it if something happens there. The decision about partial withdrawal shouldn't be taken on political considerations but on the basis of national interests,' a senior army officer said. He said if the Act is revoked from some areas, then the army will have to seek permission from a magistrate to operate and conduct raids there. 'Had there been no AFSPA in Srinagar, it would have been difficult for the army to conduct even a flag march in 2010, when the administration had sought our help. We would then have been the second line of defence,' the officer said. On Wednesday, in a meeting chaired by Omar, the army reportedly gave a presentation which showed that while the common people wanted electricity, roads and water, the calls for lifting the AFSPA were coming from four sections: Pakistan, the Inter-Services Intelligence, terrorists and secessionists. Surprised over the reports leaked out of the Unified Command meeting, the angry chief minister tweeted: 'Who the hell is leaking the proceedings of the UHQ to the media??????' OMAR minced no words on Thursday when he asserted that being the head of the elected government in the state, he had the authority to withdraw AFSPA from the state. 'In this case ( revocation of the AFSPA) authority is vested in the governor, who acts on the basis of the recommendations of the state government,' he said. 'So I don't think it is any body's case, least of all the army's, which feels that the state government has no authority,' the chief minister said. 'Let the unified command decide' Defence minister A. K. Antony on Friday said the decision over the withdrawal of the AFSPA from Jammu and Kashmir would be taken by the Unified Command. Antony said the cabinet committee on security last year had left the issue to the Unified Command. He saw no reason to alter the position. The comment came after the Command, headed by chief minister Omar Abdullah, had a detailed discussion on the issue on Wednesday. The meeting was marked by the army's stiff resistance to the proposal of partial withdrawal of its special powers from certain locations. Antony said he does not want a public debate on the issue.