Partial AFSPA withdrawal unlikely after DM’s stand11 November 2011
The Daily Excelsior
Jammu: With Defence Minister A K Antony, who has been backing his Army Generals on the need for continuation of Armed Force Special Powers Act (AFSPA), stating that the final decision on partial withdrawal of the Act rested with the Unified Headquarters, an early revocation of AFSPA from some parts of the State seemed unlikely in view of top brass of Army and heads of other security agencies having voiced strong reservations against the Government move to lift it from some areas. Mr Antony said in New Delhi today that the Unified Headquarters in the State would take the final decision on partial revocation of AFSPA from some parts of the State. He added that the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) had last year decided to leave it to the Unified Headquarters to take a decision on partial withdrawal of the AFSPA. The CCS, headed by Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh, has Mr Antony, Union Home Minister P Chidambaram and Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee among others as its members. Antony said the Defence Ministry has already conveyed its view to the Government on the ‘sensitive issue’ and there should be no public debate on it. Official sources said both the then General Officers Commanding (GOCs) of 15 and 16 Corps (based at Nagrota, Jammu and Srinagar respectively) had categorically opposed partial withdrawal of Disturbed Areas Act (DAA) from Jammu and Kashmir regions in the meeting of the Core Group, which was last held in January this year. They along with other Army Generals reiterated their stand in Wednesday’s meeting of the Unified Headquarters held at the Chief Minister’s residence here for over three hours. The Core Group, whose recommendations were yesterday sought by the Chief Minister, hasn’t met since January. The Group comprised Home Secretary B R Sharma, DGP Kuldeep Khoda, GOC of 15 and 16 Corps, Lt Gen A S Nandal and Lt Gen A S Hasnain respectively, Special Director General, J&K, CRPF Anirudh Uppal and Additional Director, Intelligence Bureau Ashok Prasad. The Core Group meeting could be convened again, sources said. Sources said the Congress high command was also averse to partial revocation of the AFSPA at this stage as five States, which were politically very significant for the party, were going to elections, next year. The States included Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat, Punjab, Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh. The Congress, which happened to be major coalition partner of National Conference in the State, has very high stakes in all five States as it was not in power in any of them. While Himachal Pradesh, Gujarat and Uttarakhand are ruled by the BJP, Punjab has coalition Government of Akali Dal (B) and BJP. Mayawati led BSP is ruling the Uttar Pradesh. The Congress party was of the view that partial withdrawal of the AFSPA in Jammu and Kashmir will be exploited by the BJP and other opposition parties in poll bound States. Sources said the Defence Minister’s statement that the CCS had left the issue of partial revocation of AFSPA in the State to the Unified Headquarters has given enough signals that the Act couldn’t be withdrawn immediately as the Army Generals and heads of other security agencies in the UHQ had only a day before expressed their strong reservations on partial withdrawal of the Act. 'Early partial withdrawal of AFSPA from some parts of the Act didn’t seem to be on the cards till the Army gave its consent to the proposal, which looked very unlikely under the present circumstances as Army has the final say in this matter as per the Defence Minister,' sources said. The Government had mooted the proposal of partial withdrawal of AFSPA from four to six districts of the State including Srinagar, Budgam and Ganderbal in Kashmir region and Jammu, Samba and Kathua in Jammu region. At a press conference here on Wednesday, Chief Minister Omar Abdullah had said that he was not asking for withdrawal of AFSPA from militancy hit Sopore, Baramulla or Kupwara but only from Srinagar and Budgam, where Army hasn’t operated for years together. The AFSPA is in force in 20 out of 22 districts of the State. Leh and Kargil are the only two districts, where it hasn’t been enforced in view of no militancy in Ladakh region. The Act was imposed in some parts of the State in 1990 with outbreak of militancy and was extended to entire State in 2001. The Government was of the view that lifting of the DAA would automatically lead to withdrawal of the AFSPA from the areas, which were notified by the Home Department after the Cabinet decision approved by the Governor. The Army Generals in the Unified Headquarters meeting here on Wednesday, had stuck to their position that they would be facing operational difficulties and virtually rendered handicap in carrying out operations, if required, in the areas from where AFSPA was withdrawn. The Chief Minister was, however, of the view that there was always a possibility for re-imposition of AFSPA. He remarked that non-withdrawal of AFSPA from certain areas was not an option and the people of the State need to have some semblance of peace returning. The Chief Minister had directed the Corps Commanders of Jammu and Srinagar Corps as well as Director General of Police Kuldeep Khoda and Home Secretary B R Sharma to hold meetings on the issue of withdrawal of Disturbed Areas Act at the earliest and hand over their report to the State Government. The Generals had raised two major issues including conducting an operation in the area at a very short notice and legal protection to soldiers where there was no AFSPA. 'It would not only become very difficult but, rather impossible, for the troops to operate without legal protection. In a short notice, it wouldn’t be possible for the Army to go after the militants in the areas without AFSPA’’, they had explained. The Army Generals had expressed apprehensions that the areas from where AFSPA was partially lifted would become safe havens for militants and help them in re-grouping. Top Army Generals, who had attended the meeting, included Northern Command chief Lt Gen K T Parnaik, GOC 16 Corps (Nagrota) Lt Gen A S Nandal, GOC 15 Corps (Srinagar) Lt Gen A S Hasnain and GOC 9 Corps (Yol Cantonment) Lt Gen A K Chowdhary. GOC 14 Corps (Leh) Ravi Dastane was represented by Chief of Staff Maj Gen Siwach while GOC 26 Div (Jammu) Maj Gen TPS Waraich was represented by Brig Pankaj Saxena.