Kashmir crisis: All-party meet to decide on AFSPA (Night Lead)

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

NEW DELHI - Ahead of an all-party meeting on Kashmir, the government Tuesday rejected internal differences over the contentious Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) and expressed confidence that a solution will be found, even as the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) accused the government of placating secessionists in the Valley.

Defence Minister A.K. Antony said the government will take a final decision on a Kashmir package, including withdrawal of the AFSPA, at the all-party meeting Wednesday morning that will be chaired by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

“Before we take a final decision, it is better to involve everyone,” Antony said.

The Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS), which met here Monday, deferred a decision on withdrawing the AFSPA from certain parts of Jammu and Kashmir. This was one of the measures being considered to defuse the volatile situation in the Valley, where 88 people, mainly teenagers and youth, have died in violent protests since June 11.

The CCS also decided to convene Wednesday’s all-party meeting to consider the way forward in Kashmir.

Asked why the CCS was not able to take a decision on a Kashmir package, especially on AFSPA, despite a three-hour-long meeting, Antony said: “Important decisions have to be taken after carefully assessing all aspects.”

“Ultimately, we thought before we take a final decision, we will take into confidence all the major parties so that everybody is involved,” he said. “Don’t worry, we will take a decision. Tomorrow (Wednesday) is the all-party meeting. After that, we will take a decision,” he said.

The government also rejected reports of differences over handling the crisis in the violence-hit state. There are no differences in the cabinet on the AFSPA, Information and Broadcasting Minister Ambika Soni said.

“The situation is serious in Kashmir. Discussions are needed before a decision can be taken (on the demand for repealing or diluting the act in the state),” Soni said.

The AFSPA gives army officers legal immunity for their action while operating in “disturbed areas”. The National Conference, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and the separatists are demanding the lifting of AFSPA in the Kashmir Valley as they think it will help address the alienation among the Kashmiri people who feel this act has been abused by armed forces to inflict human rights abuses.

Amid the opposition’s fresh onslaught on the government’s handling of the Kashmir crisis, Law Minister M. Veerappa Moily expressed confidence that a solution would “definitely” be found to the issue. Manmohan Singh was applying his mind to find a solution and “we will definitely find a solution so that we can resolve the conflict”, he said in Bangalore.

The BJP and the security establishment, however, opposed any rethink on AFSPA. “Soldiers while involved in performing their duty need legal protection if you want them to be efficient,” Indian Air Force chief Air Chief Marshal P.V. Naik said.

The BJP upped the ante and was unsparing in accusing the government of “bending over backwards” to placate secessionists in the Valley.

Speaking at the concluding session of a two-day workshop for spokespersons and media cell convenors of the BJP, Advani slammed the government over the deteriorating situation in Kashmir.

“There is no government worth the name in Jammu and Kashmir. It has completely collapsed, ceding the ground to secessionists. However, the mess in Kashmir is not the making of only the government in Srinagar. In New Delhi, the UPA government is totally clueless and spineless,” he said.

Advani said while the situation in the country was a cause of concern on many counts, in Jammu and Kashmir it was “indeed alarming”.

“Each passing day strengthens our apprehension that the UPA government is about to capitulate before Pakistan-supported secessionists,” he said.

Advani said that instead of giving a fitting reply to secessionists, the government has been “demonizing” the security forces.

“There is continuing talk of diluting the AFSPA, and withdrawal of the forces. This is nothing but a surrender before Islamabad’s strategy of breaking India’s post-1947 unity.”

“I would like to warn the UPA government that if they decide to bow before the secessionists’ designs in J&K, the country will not pardon them,” Advani said.

will not be displayed