AFSPA Can Be Withdrawn With A Rider: Omar7 November 2010
The Daily Excelsior
Srinagar: Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah feels the Armed Forces Special Powers Act can be withdrawn from some areas in the State with a rider that the Army could step in again if the situation so warranted. He will soon chair a high-level meeting to review the possible withdrawal of Disturbed Areas Act, which may subsequently lead to removal of AFSPA. 'I think the time has come where we can start to objectively look at areas from where the AFSPA can be removed with the understanding that if there is a situation requiring the Army to intervene, we can make a temporary sort of return to that,' Omar said. Seeking to reduce the footprint of security personnel in the Valley, Omar said the State Government has started moving back the forces and the recent dismantling of 16 bunkers in Srinagar was a first step. 'We hope to continue until we reach a level where the visible presence is greatly reduced,' he said. Commenting on opposition to the withdrawal of AFSPA, the Chief Minister said, 'No right-thinking person can turn around and tell you that AFSPA should be revoked in one shot. It is not possible at a point where you still have militant encounters and things like that going on. 'The overnight revocation of the AFSPA from the entire State is not possible.' He, however, said there are areas where the Army has 'virtually no presence and virtually no role to play'. 'It is in those areas that we are contemplating withdrawing the Disturbed Areas Act which will then automatically mean that the AFSPA does not apply there,' the Chief Minister said. He said he has set up two small committees for Srinagar and Jammu respectively comprising Director General of Police Kuldeep Khoda and Home Secretary B R Sharma besides Corps Commander of Srinagar-based 15 Corps and Corps Commander of Nagrota-based 16 Corps to review the issue. 'After the visit of US President Barack Obama, I will be sitting down with them reviewing what possibilities are there and then we will move forward and implement them,' Omar said. He said he understands the need for a legal framework within which the armed forces have to operate and felt that there are two ways of going about it. 'Either you can make that framework less draconian or you do an objective assessment of those areas where that law is no longer required.' Giving the example of removal of AFSPA from Greater Imphal, he said, 'Initially we might have faced a few problems, after that things stablised. So what is there to suggest you cannot do the same thing for Greater Srinagar, Greater Anantnag, Greater Baramulla and then as your confidence levels grow, you move further.' Asked whether he was pleased with the appointment of the three interlocutors and their subsequent visit to the State, Omar said, 'I am actually very glad or pleased with the way their initial visit to the State went.' On the issue of whether a heavyweight politician should also have been a part of the team of interlocutors, Omar said, 'I honestly donít see how things would have been different even if you have had a heavyweight politician...Can you for a moment imagine a political interlocutor making the sort of statements that these people made. 'You may or may not agree with what they have said, they have at least shown that they have the space for independent thought which is what Jammu and Kashmir requires. You cannot look at the problem of J and K through the narrow prism of what your party political line is.' Asked if he favoured another layer of interlocutors, Omar said it would have only led to further filtering of conversations. 'It is just filtering the conversation even further. The idea is that the Prime Minister and the Home Minister and other decision-makers in the Government of India need to be given an idea of what the thought process is and what options are available. I donít think you need layers for that. I think you just need honest brokers for that.' Omar, however, said subsequent visits by the interlocutors need to be 'below the radar'. Justifying the non-appointment of a Kashmiri as an interlocutor, the Chief Minister said, 'The danger is that you have somebody who already has pre-conceived ideas of what the problem is and what its solution should be, which doesnít help an interlocutor.' Asked what according to him the people in his State mean by ĎAzadií, Omar said, 'For most people I think it is Azadi from constant frisking and checking, Azadi from sudden Ďnakasí and search and seizure (operations). Azadi from the freedom that security forces have to do pretty much what they like under the cover of Armed Forces Special Powers Act.' He said people to a certain extent also want ĎAzadií from corruption, especially at lower levels. 'To an extent I think it would be fair to say that Azadi from corruption...That is true for almost everywhere in the country. It is really lower level corruption that bothers them. Trying to get ration card and pay some money. Trying to get licence and pay some money. They want Azadi from that. 'Then I guess there is a constituency. For them, Azadi means absolute Azadi. It means a completely different Constitutional dispensation,' he said.