Omar Writes To PM Against Army’s ‘criticism, Interference’1 December 2010
The Indian Express
Srinagar: Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah today wrote a letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, complaining against the Army’s public criticism of him and his government and consistent interference in policy issues related to the state. “I don’t want to respond to this (statement) publicly. I have already written to the Prime Minister today and taken up the matter seriously,” Omar told The Indian Express. Relations between the Army and the state Government have been sour ever since Omar raised his government’s pitch on the demand for withdrawal or an amendment to the Armed Forces Special Powers Act. The latest row was triggered by a statement issued and later withdrawn by Lt Col Pradeep Kochhar, Public Relations Officer of the Northern Command based at Udhampur. In the statement, the Army has termed the decision to thin out security forces from urban areas as Omar Abdullah’s “political compulsion” and a reason for the recent encounter with militants in Srinagar city. The statement questions “the talk of removing AFSPA from Srinagar and asks as to “how will those in power justify to the people if there are a few more incidents like this?”. Written in the form of a news story, the statement quotes “sources in the police and intelligence agencies who do not wish to be quoted” saying they “still maintain that it may have been imprudent to thin out security forces from the urban areas. But political compulsions had compelled Omar Abdullah to convince New Delhi.” The statement adds: “The clamour to remove bunkers and thin out the police-paramilitary presence from the urban areas had compelled the Omar Abdullah government to give in. While it may have pleased a few hardline separatists and their ISI handlers is Pakistan, what about the common man in the valley...Why were these terrorists trying to move inside Srinagar during mid-day, and that too fully armed?...Were they possibly on a strike mission emboldened by the thin presence of the police and para military? May be a serious incident was averted. But there is a clear writing on the wall - that reducing security is not the answer”. When contacted, Lt Col Kochhar told The Indian Express that the Army had withdrawn the statement. When asked about the CM’s letter to the PM, he said he would not like to comment. The first cracks in the Army-state government relationship came when Omar called for moving a camp of the 22 Rashtriya Rifles from Bomai in the outskirts of Sopore after troops opened fire and killed two civilians Mohammad Amin Tantray and Javid Ahmad Dar on February 23, 2009. Police registered a murder case against 22 Rashtria Rifles and after 32 days, the Army moved the camp to the premises of Agriculture College at Wadura.. On May 30, 2010, the police filed cases against Army officers alleging that they had lured three youths from Nadihal village who were then killed in a fake encounter at Machil along the Line of Control. A jawan of the Territorial Army unit and two army sources were also arrested. The Army held its own inquiry and subsequently sought the custody of the three arrested persons. The police, however, didn’t agree and instead filed a chargesheet against eight Army officials. While the issue was still hot, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was scheduled to visit Srinagar on June 7 to address the convocation of Sher-e-Kashmir University of Agricultural Sciences. Sources said the Army had raised security issues ahead of the visit and claimed to have picked up a conversation between a Pakistani militant commander from across the border and his accomplice in Srinagar suggesting a plan to attack the venue. Sources said that the Army suggested a change in venue from SKICC on Dal banks to the Badami Bagh cantonment which was turned down because both the state government and the police opposed it. Police sources said the Army even gave a CD of the conversation that had prompted the security alarm and found that the man speaking to the militant commander across the LoC was a known security force mole. Within days, the killing of a student in police firing triggered massive protests across the Valley that lasted for several months and pushed the NC-led coalition government into a major crisis. Trying to defuse that, the Chief Minister sought the withdrawal or dilution of the AFSPA.