UPA Brass Discuss J-K Troop-cut, PM Puts Mufti In The Loop
28 March 2007
The Indian Express
New Delhi: The top leadership of the UPA met here today to discuss the PDP's demand for gradual withdrawal of troops from Jammu and Kashmir. The meeting, held at Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's residence, was attended by UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi, External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee, Home Minister Shivraj Patil, Defence Minister A K Antony and Sonia Gandhi's political advisor Ahmed Patel. J-K Chief Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad, who has come out strongly against the demand, was not present. It is learnt that the Prime Minister later briefed PDP leader Mufti Mohammed Sayeed about the meeting, following which the PDP has postponed its political affairs committee meeting, scheduled for Thursday morning to a later day. Reports said the PDP leader has decided to stay back in Delhi for now. The discussion, which lasted for over two hours, is being seen as a prelude to the matter being taken up by the Cabinet Committee on Security, which may meet tomorrow. Discussions over the past few days have centred around the formation of a committee of security experts to look at the PDP demands relating to troop withdrawal and repeal of laws like the Armed Forces Special Powers Act and the Disturbed Areas Act. 'The committee is likely to have representation from the Army, the state police and Central paramilitary forces in addition to the Union Home Ministry and the Defence Ministry,' an official said. Official sources said the government was willing to look at demands like the vacation of orchards, farmlands and government buildings occupied by security forces during anti- militancy operations over the years. It could also consider steps like advising the security forces against conducting night searches in villages to inspire confidence among the people. Any decision on withdrawing or relocating troops would have to await a detailed analysis of militant operations and infiltration levels by the army and intelligence agencies. The PM has already said this could be looked at only after summer sets in. Militants will be firmly dealt with: Azad KULGAM: While asking the army to vacate orchards and other civilian as well as government properties and move to uninhabited hilltops to give some relief to people, Chief Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad on Wednesday said his government will deal with militants with a heavy hand. Azad, while inviting separatist Hurriyat and Opposition National Conference to join the Centre's round-table to find a negotiated solution to the Kashmir problem, launched an attack on coalition partner People's Democratic Party raising doubts on possibilities of a 'patch up' between his Congress party and the PDP on ground here. 'I wield a sword for militants, but I am butter for innocent civilians. I will fight any oppressor to save innocent lives,' Azad said.