Kashmir On Its Mind, Govt Mulls All-party Meeting5 September 2010
The Indian Express
New Delhi: Hectic consultations are on in the government to assuage a still-very-restive Kashmir. Under consideration is a move to call an all-party meeting soon in New Delhi to decide on sending a parliamentary delegation to Kashmir. The idea, sources said, is to facilitate talks between representatives of all major parties and all stakeholders in Kashmir who are willing to step forward, so that a set of recommendations can be formulated. Parallely, the Home Ministry is working on an offer of talks on all issues, but within the framework of the Indian Constitution. The government is mindful of not conceding anything that may cause problems in other ongoing negotiations. Also on the cards is a visit by Home Minister P Chidambaram to the Valley - the timing will, however, depend on the visit of the parliamentary delegation. While the conditions put forth by Hurriyat hardliner Syed Ali Shah Geelani are essentially non-starters, serious thought is being given to the resumption of talks. The problem is that Pakistan wants the separatists to wait until the Indo-Pak composite dialogue resumes. Fazl-ul-Haq Qureshi’s killing last year had sent a stern message to the separatists. As a result, a genuine offer for talks may not receive a positive response. A range of ideas are on the table, but so are significant differences within the government. There is a proposal to consider withdrawing the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) in certain districts. But security agencies have pointed out that this could constrain the Army or paramilitary forces’ response under attack. The Army is understood to be involved in legal consultations of its own to find a more acceptable language for amendments suggested in Section 4 of the AFSPA. A possible reduction or redeployment of troops is also under consideration. However, there must first be some let-up in the violence. A lot will depend on the approach of the state government, because the Centre is keen that the J&K Police take up more responsibilities. The withdrawal of 10 CRPF battalions last year was possible because some 8,000 policemen were recruited. A major recruitment drive is now under way, which creates chances for a further reduction of the CRPF’s presence. The Centre is willing to remove the CRPF from urban areas but wants the state government to be the prime mover on the proposal, sources said. In anticipation of a wider role for the police, significant purchases are being made. These include nearly 1,000 crowd-control shotguns which fire pellets that injure but not seriously wound. The DRDO is slated to carry out the trials of laser dazzlers. Talks are on with countries like Norway on buying latest crowd-control equipment. There remains a contrary view, however, that the police continue to need paramilitary support, constrained as it is by “social pressure” at times. There is also a view in the government that any major initiative must be postponed until state forces have worn down the protesters. Unless that happens, it is argued, no initiative will show results, because the gap between the protesters’ demands and the government ability to even consider them will remain unbridgeable. On the economic front, there seems to be a consensus that a lot is already being done, and that this can’t be the solution to the complex problem at hand. A recent stocktaking exercise showed that some Rs 60,000 crore have been allocated to the J&K government in the past six years, not including security expenditure or the transfer of funds under central welfare schemes.