Can’t wait for last gun to fall silent : Omar9 November 2011
The Daily Excelsior
Jammu: Once again pitching ground for withdrawal of Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) from some parts of the State, Chief Minister Omar Abdullah said today that he was asking for withdrawal of the Act from only those areas where troops have not operated for years together. Omar, who spoke to Union Home Minister P Chidambaram on telephone for over five minutes last night on the issue of AFSPA, maintained that he had never announced withdrawal of the Act from some parts of the State but expressed his intent to do so. Addressing a press conference along with Deputy Chief Minister Tara Chand on the opening of Civil Secretariat, the seat of the Government which shifted here today for six months of the winter, the Chief Minister said he has never asked for withdrawal of AFSPA from Sopore, Baramulla or Kupwara but only from Srinagar and Budgam, where Army has not operated for several years. 'I don’t remember the day Army operated in Srinagar or Budgam’’, he said making a strong pitch for revocation of AFSPA from peaceful areas of the State. 'If we are going to wait for the last gun to fall silent (to withdraw the AFSPA), I think that day is not going to come. We have to take tough decisions’’, Omar said and recalled that when 40 CRPF bunkers were removed from Srinagar City, there were murmurs that militancy would be revived there but the facts proved otherwise Questioning the need for 'protection' to the Army in areas where they have not operated for years, the Chief Minister observed that endeavour of the Government was to remove AFSPA only from those areas where the Army was not operating. To strengthen his statement, he said he has never asked for removal of AFSPA from Baramulla, Sopore or Kupwara but from Srinagar and Budgam only. 'Where the Army has not worked for years, what is the problem in removing (AFSPA) from those areas? When did they (Army) work in Srinagar the last time? When did they last time work in Budgam'? he asked. Mr Abdullah said he also spoke to the Union Home Minister on the issue of AFSPA last night. Though he didn’t reveal the discussions that he had with Mr Chidambaram, he was reported to have spoken on the same lines with the Union Home Minister. To a question on the Army's demand for legal protection while operating in insurgency-affected areas, the Chief Minister said, 'there are places where Army did not work for years. What is the need for protection when they have not worked in those areas? 'It is a straight question and (required) a straight answer (from the Army). It will be taken into consideration', he said. 'We have to have courage and take a decision. In beginning, there would be difficulty but ultimate results would be good', he said. On whether it is the right time to remove the operation of AFSPA from some areas, he said 'militant activities for past several years are decreasing. If we wait for last gun to fall silent, that time will never come'. Asked about objections raised by the Ministry of Defence on the AFSPA issue and the way to bring them on board, he said, 'there would be an element of consultation which would continue. The issue will be taken up in the meeting of the Unified Headquarters. 'Subsequently on a future date, yet not decided- but not too far away, this matter would come up for discussion at a Cabinet meeting as well', he said, adding 'so far as I am concerned, necessary process is going on. Beyond that I am not going to pre-judge what would be the conclusion'. Omar said, 'I did not make any announcement (on AFSPA) at a public meeting. I made an announcement in this regard on the intent at Police Commemoration Day at Zewan where the police high command, heads of para-military forces and the Army high command were present'. Omar also claimed that there were no differences between the ruling coalition partners on the AFSPA issue. On the war of words between National Conference and Congress, Mr Abdullah, without naming PCC (I) chief Prof Saif-ud-Din Soz, said the war of words takes place between two persons. 'It was a one side war of words, which has also ended’’, he remarked. It may be mentioned here that Prof Soz had taken exception to what he called the 'unilateral announcement’ by the Chief Minister on withdrawal of the AFSPA without taking the coalition partner, Congress into confidence. Replying to a volley of questions on new recruitment policy of the Government, which has drawn flak from the opposition parties and student organisations and stayed by the High Court, Omar defended the policy saying it was necessitated due to financial problems that have cropped up in the State after implementation of Sixth Pay Commission recommendations. 'There are two options before the youth. Either they would get one job with fully salary or four jobs in stipendiary mode with guaranteed full salary after five years’’, he said, adding 'we hope the youth would accept the second option’’. Admitting that the Department, which made the policy, didn’t take the youth into confidence, Omar said the misgivings among the youth and the students were understandable. He added that such was the financial burden of the implementation of Sixth Pay Commission recommendations for the Government employees both in terms of salary and arrears that the Government was left with no option except to freeze the appointments for next three to four years or adopt an innovative recruitment policy where jobs would be guaranteed after five years of stipend. Ruling out any roll back of the policy, the Chief Minister, however, said the Government was open to discussions on raising scales of grades mentioned in the policy. 'We want to boost and not reduce employment opportunities for the youth. Therefore, we decided that instead of freezing employment for three-four years, we would adopt a new policy under which the employees would get stipend for five years and then treated to fully salary’’, he said, adding that the Department should have explained the policy in a better way to the youngsters. He referred to success of Rehbar-e-Taleem (ReT) pattern under which the teachers are paid only '1500 per month for five years before being regularized. He said the opposition parties, which were questioning the new recruitment policy, were strongly in favour of ReT and Rehbar-e-Zerat pattern. Mr Abdullah said the Government was not deviating the unemployed youth to private sector but was raising more opportunities for them. He added that the Government would wait for a court decision on the new policy. Omar recalled having started out on a ' 3,000 stipend in his initial days. 'What’s wrong to start with a stipend? I started on a stipend of ' 3,000 a month in my initial days for the time period of one year, which was later enhanced to ' 6,000’’, he said. Replying to a question on notable achievement of the Government, which was going to complete three years in next couple of months, the Chief Minister said all achievements of the Government are collective and he wouldn’t like to alone take credits of them. However, he asserted, the holding of Panchayat elections in the State to restore powers at grass root level was biggest contribution of the Government. He said the NC-Congress coalition Government has shown seriousness and commitment and 'I give credit to my team of Ministers that I have honour to head for all the achievements’’. To another question on appointment of a judicial commission on the issue of alleged political payoffs and death of Haji Mohammad Yusuf in custody of Crime Branch, Omar maintained, 'I have always said that we have asked for a commission of inquiry by a sitting judge and there was nothing wrong in that as it is our right to ask for that. 'It is also the right of the Chief Justice of Jammu and Kashmir High Court to accept or reject any such request (on grounds) that he did not find that the circumstances necessitate (an inquiry by) a judge or a sitting judge. (But) that does not take away our right to ask for one,' he said. 'Now, we have asked the Union Law Ministry to give us a retired judge of the Supreme Court. I have spoken in the last couple of days to Union Law Minister Salman Khurshid. They are in process of finalising one or two names and that would be made available to us and we will go ahead with the judicial commission of inquiry,' Omar said. To another question about the police in Kashmir issuing a handout condoling the death of brother of separatist leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani, the Chief Minister said, 'It is very much part of humanity to express sympathy.' He pointed out that Geelani was also an ex-MLA and has spent more time as a mainstream politician than a separatist leader. 'Just because Geelani is a pro-Pakistan separatist leader doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t express sympathy with him on the death of his brother. This is in the fitness of things that we expressed condolences to him’’, he said. Batting strongly for the grant of Most Favoured Nation (MFN) status to India by Pakistan, Mr Abdullah said Islamabad would benefit most if India gets the MFN status. 'I don't know whether Pakistan has given the MFN status to India or not,' Omar said. 'I know for years, we have been working to get such a status. I was in the Union Commerce Ministry as MoS at that time when talks were going on in the matter,' he said. The Chief Minister was replying to a question related to confusing signals from Islamabad over the grant of MFN status to India. 'If India gets MFN status, the most benefits will go to Pakistan in comparison to New Delhi. We are much bigger than them (Pak). We will be importing more than we will be exporting,' the Chief Minister said. 'I do not see why Pakistan should have any objection in granting MFN status to India,' he said.