J&K: Centre to announce new steps
8 August 2001
NEW DELHI: The Centre today decided to put in place a new set of measures which would build confidence among the citizens in Jammu and Kashmir, especially in the wake of a series of attacks by jehadi groups against the civilian population The exact nature of these measures is likely to be announced in the Lok Sabha tomorrow by the Union Home Minister, Mr L K Advani But initial indications are that contrary to expectations that the high-level meeting convened here today would produce a definite shift in the Government''s strategy vis-a-vis the militancy, the conclave failed to produce any qualitatively different decision . The meeting was presided over by Mr. Advani. The Defence Minister, Mr. Jaswant Singh, the Railway Minister, Mr. Nitish Kumar, the Jammu and Kashmir Governor, Mr. G. C. Saxena, the Chief Minister, Dr. Farooq Abdullah, the Union Minister of State for Home Affairs, Mr. I. D. Swami, and senior officials such as the Union Home Secretary, the Defence Secretary, the Intelligence Bureau director, and the Director-General of Military Operations participated in the discussion lasting over two hours. The meeting discussed a number of suggestions - whether more forces would be needed or whether a re-deployment of the current security forces would do; whether arms confiscated from the militants could be made available to the police; how to strengthen the Village Defence Councils and whether arms such as self-loading rifles could be provided to these village level committees; how to provide extra security for the railway stations; whether floodlights were needed in key places, etc. Dr. Abdullah expressed a desire to declare a number of districts as ''disturbed'' under the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (which empowers the security forces to operate more freely, without procedural constraints). The Chief Minister was, however, informed that it was a decision for the State Government to make, and that the Governor was the competent authority to do so. Dr. Abdullah, who was under the impression that he needed the Centre''s consent, had to be corrected by Mr. Saxena that he (the Governor) indeed had the power to make the declaration of any part of the State being ''disturbed''. After the meeting, the Chief Minister said the Jammu, Doda, Udhampur and Kathua districts would be declared as ''disturbed''. He had made a similar announcement in Jammu before leaving for the capital. On his part, Mr. Jaswant Singh, who kept his counsel for most the time, is believed to have assured the cooperation of the armed forces. With an exaggerated show of deference, he said the Chief Minister simply had to indicate his preference for redeployment of forces and the ''orders'' would be followed. The review meeting took place in the context of the post-Agra spurt in militant activities. Even though the security forces have been going after the militants, the apparent decision of the jehadi groups to target civilians has changed the mood. With each massacre of civilians by the jehadis, the Vajpayee Government has come under tremendous pressure from within the Sangh Parivar, the BJP as well as the from the Opposition to ''do something''. Mr. Advani himself has been criticised by the Opposition parties, in and outside Parliament. The meeting was primarily seen as the Home Minister''s individual enterprise rather than a collective initiative of the Government. The Prime Minister''s National Security Adviser, Mr. Brajesh Mishra, was conspicuous by his absence. Neither Mr. K. C. Pant, Centre''s designated interlocutor on Kashmir nor the Chief of the Army Staff put in an appearance. The very nature of the meeting indicated that only cosmetic changes could be decided upon.