Politics of troop reduction with election year around in J-K
30 December 2007
M I JEHANGIR
SRINAGAR: With assembly elections round the corner, politics took centre stage in militancy-hit Jammu and Kashmir in 2007 as coalition partners Congress and PDP squabbled over issues like troop reduction and withdrawal of special laws. Militancy, which plagued the state's economy for several years, was put on the back burner though terrorists made their presence felt by sporadic killings of domestic tourists and planned suicide attacks on Chief Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad and National Conference President Omar Abdullah. Human rights violations were dealt with severely as 12 police personnel including an SSP were booked for allegedly killing an innocent in custody and labelling him a foreign mercenary, while the 2006 Kashmir sex scandal came back to haunt the high and mighty again this year. The year began with PDP raising its stakes in the political arena by demanding reduction of troops and repeal of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act. The rift between Congress and its junior alliance partner kept rumour mills working overtime that former Chief Minister Mufti Mohammed Sayeed's party would walk out of the coalition on the issue. After verbal exchanges and shadow boxing, the political turmoil was brought to rest by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh who formed a high- powered committee under Defence Ministry A K Antony to go into the issue of troop reduction. After several meetings, the panel decided against troop reduction and favoured relocation of security personnel and vacation of hospitals, schools and other public places with the rider that troops would continue to have area domination. The Centre stood by the Azad's reasoning that reducing troops would undo the gains through anti-terror operations and the state would plunge back to the peak days of militancy. The PDP followed this with another stunt with Sayeed and his daughter Mehbooba Mufti refusing to take security with them, but the bluff was called when intelligence officials briefed them about the threat perception from militants. For the first time in 17 years of militancy, the state government acted swiftly following an allegation that a civilian Abdul Rehman Paddar was killed in a fake encounter. The encounter was allegedly staged by the policemen for cash rewards and promotions, but 12 of them including an SSP ended up being arrested in the case. Azad, who ordered the arrests, said this would send right signal down the rank and file that human rights violations are not accepted. At least four more similar cases came to fore after kin of missing persons registered complaints with the special investigation team probing Paddar case. (MORE) Although the sex scandal rocked the state in 2006, its aftershock was felt this year as the division bench of the Jammu and Kashmir High Court monitoring the CBI probe named several high-profile politicians, senior bureaucrats and police officials for their alleged involvement in the case. As the year drew to a close, another political shakeup was in store when the chief minister took away the Forest and Environment portfolio from PDP MLA Qazi Afzal and sacked State Forest Corporation chairman due to allegations of corruption in the department. In protest, Afzal resigned from the cabinet which was not accepted. The scam also pointed to Finance Minister Tariq Hamid Qara, who was instrumental in bringing Aijaz Ahmed Bhat as SFC chairman despite his long absence from the duty. Later, it was found he was in possession of a US passport also. At the intervention of the Congress high command, the forest portfolio was restored to Qazi during a small cabinet expansion in which Muzaffar Hussain Baig of PDP, who was unceremoniously removed last year, was brought back. Separatist politics was at its lowest ebb as a majority of them including Hurriyat Conference again boycotted the third Round Table Conference on Kashmir chaired by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. There were several attempts made by Hurriyat Conference for a separate dialogue with the Centre, and mediators like Sayeed and Union Water Resources Minister Saif-ud-din Soz were roped in but to little avail as the government made it clear it would not enter into dialogue individually with these groups.