As PM Firefights To Save J&K Coalition, Governor Calls PDP Demand 'obnoxious'
19 March 2007
The Indian Express
Srinagar: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's last-ditch effort to save the Congress's coalition with the PDP in Jammu and Kashmir got off to a rocky start today with Chief Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad hardening his stand and ruling out troop reduction in the state, saying 'any complacency' would jeopardise peace in the region. Azad's remarks, soon after a 30-minute meeting with the Prime Minister, were followed by J-K Governor S K Sinha joining the debate, calling the PDP's demilitarisation demand 'incomprehensible' and 'obnoxious'. It is on the issue of demilitarisation that the ties between the two ruling partners in the state have reached their lowest point yet, with the PDP boycotting a meeting of the Jammu and Kashmir cabinet for the third time yesterday. While the Prime Minister too had earlier politely declined the PDP's demand for demilitarisation - in response to a letter written to him by Mufti Mohammed Sayeed - he stepped in yesterday to salvage the situation amid reports that the PDP would snap ties with the Congress at a meeting of the party's political affairs committee scheduled on March 25. Demilitarisation has become a contentious issue in the state with the Prime Minister himself being forced to describe as 'speculation' a statement by Mirwaiz Umer Farooq in Srinagar on March 2 that India and Pakistan had agreed to a pullout of troops from Kashmir in phases. He had added that while the Indian Army was not an army of occupation, it could not be moved out unless militancy ceased. Although Azad reiterated his earlier position today, saying he will never recommend troop reduction, the timing is meaningful as the Chief Minister had come out of a meeting called by the PM to bring about a reconciliation. Singh is expected to meet Mufti tomorrow in this regard, and try to persuade him to defer the demilitarisation demand till the Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections are over. Azad's remarks or the Governor's decision to get into the debate are hardly likely to help matters. Openly supporting the Congress line, Governor Sinha said that 'even after restoring peace, the Army has the challenging role of defending borders and serving the people'. He even questioned the PDP's main argument that demilitarisation is the demand of the people. 'The people in remote areas want the Army to be with them,' he said, claiming this was the 'feedback' he had received during interactions. Reacting to Sinha's statement, PDP president Mehbooba Mufti said that not only was he wrong in his assessment but had transcended his role as Governor of the state. 'If the Governor is saying that people are happy with the Army presence, he is wrong. We are elected representatives and I think we know that there is overwhelming support for the Army's withdrawal everywhere,' she said. She also accused Sinha of interfering in 'sensitive political as well as administrative issues' from the very beginning. 'In such a sensitive state, he should not transcend his apolitical role,' Mehbooba said. 'But Governor Sinha has been always doing it. He would conduct district-level administrative meetings, seek direct reports from government officers and interfere in day-to- day administrative issues'.