Antony, PC Differ On AFSPA Withdrawal From Some Areas10 September 2010
The Daily Excelsior
New Delhi: The Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) will meet here tomorrow amid indications that the controversial Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) could be partially withdrawn from Kashmir and Jammu, an issue that was deliberated upon by the top Congress leadership today. The Government, which is treading a cautious path over the issue of AFSPA, is expected to make some announcement to address the resentment in Kashmir, particularly with regard to the Act that gives sweeping powers to security forces, sources said. There were indications that the AFSPA could be withdrawn from Srinagar and Jammu districts and the decision could be taken at the CCS being held on Eid tomorrow. The indications came after the 90-minute meeting of Congress Core Group chaired by its President Sonia Gandhi and attended by Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh and senior leaders of the party. At the meeting also attended by Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee and Congress President's political secretary Ahmed Patel, there were differences over the AFSPA, with Defence Minister A K Antony and Home Minister P Chidambaram aired divergent views. Prithviraj Chavan, AICC in-charge of Jammu and Kashmir, and senior party leaders from the State Ghulam Nabi Azad and Saifuddin Soz also attended the meeting. Reflecting the security establishment's apprehensions, Antony opposed any decision to even partially withdraw AFSPA while Chidambaram is understood to have emphasised the need for some political action to break the impasse in the Valley, sources said. Antony is believed to have cautioned that the Army should not be projected as a 'demon', the sources said. There was a view that the four districts of the State from where AFSPA's withdrawal is being demanded by Chief Minister Omar Abdullah has no Army presence, they said. It was also pointed out that there is no guarantee that stone pelting, which has been going on for three months, would stop even if the AFSPA is withdrawn from these districts, the sources said. Chavan and Azad also disfavoured any concessions as these could be seen as succumbing to pressure, they said. Chidambaram told the meeting that the State Government's demands would have to be considered and something should be given. Significantly, before the Core Group meeting, three Service Chiefs called on the Prime Minister but the PMO said it had nothing to do with the Kashmir discussions. Sources said the Government would not be averse to some political initiatives to restore normalcy in the Valley but did not elaborate. Some members of the Core Group said the AFSPA should be made a discussion point before any decision is taken to dilute it or withdraw it. Some members of the top Congress group also felt that the five conditions set by hardline Hurriyat leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani, which include demilitarisation, should be made points of deliberations and he should come forward to discuss these. Meanwhile, Congress spokesman Shakeel Ahmed said the AFSPA is a 'sensitive issue' whichi is under consideration of the Government. 'I am sure a decision will be taken in the best interest of the country,' he said.