Can Kashmir afford Omar-army confrontation? (Kashmir Newsletter)

November 13th, 2011 - 12:02 pm ICT by IANS  

Rahul Gandhi Srinagar, Nov 13 (IANS) Thanks to the open confrontation between the state government and the army over the revocation of the controversial Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), the sensitive issue of security has been converted into a street debate and a war of egos.

Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, who chaired the unified headquarters (UHQ) meeting in winter capital Jammu Nov 9, has brushed aside the stand taken by the army over the proposed partial revocation of AFSPA.

AFSPA, which gives sweeping powers to the armed forces, was invoked in the Valley in 1990 and the Jammu region in 2001.

Omar said he would not take ‘no’ as an option.

“The army must come forward with a workable and feasible option. ‘No’ is not the option,” Omar told reporters in summer capital Srinagar a day after the UHQ meeting in which the army is believed to have firmly opposed the move to revoke AFSPA even partially.

For the chief minister, the revocation of AFSPA from at least some areas of the Valley and the Jammu region has become a matter of credibility.

As the elected chief minister who also heads the UHQ, Omar Abdullah is in an unenviable position.

A highly sensitive issue that concerns the security of the state has been converted into a public confrontation. The army says it cannot be done and the chief minister says he shall have it done. The message that has gone out seems to be nobody’s bother.

As if the closed-door confrontation was not enough, leaders from both the ruling National Conference (NC) and the Congress have jumped on to the bandwagon for one-upmanship.

The most embarrassing statements for the state government came from none other than the chief spokesman of the NC and Omar’s uncle, Mustafa Kamal.

Kamal even accused the army of being responsible for some grenade attacks that occurred in the wake of Omar’s announcement about the partial revocation.

Although Kamal, in an interview to IANS, later denied he had ever said anything against the army, he continued to fume against the Congress and finally the Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi.

Following a statement by state Congress president Saif-ud-Din Soz, carried by the widely circulated Greater Kashmir newspaper, in which Soz said Rahul Gandhi was not happy with governance in the state, Kamal said Rahul’s happiness had nothing to do with the state’s governance.

The statement against Rahul Gandhi finally cost Kamal his status as the NC chief spokesman. NC patron Farooq Abdullah asked him to immediately step down.

While noises against and for the partial revocation of AFSPA continued in both the local NC and the Congress camps, the chief minister again asserted that the final call on revocation would be taken by the state government.

To top the confusion, Defence Minister A.K. Antony said the cabinet committee on security (CCS) had authorised the UHQ to decide the issue and Omar alone could not take the final call.

This followed reports in The Hindu attributed to S.A. Hasnain, the corps commander of army’s Srinagar-based 15th corps, saying if the state government went ahead with its decision to revoke AFSPA, the country would have to grant independence to Kashmir by 2016.

The newspaper said Hasnain had made the remarks during his presentation in the UHQ meeting Nov 9 in Jammu.

There is no doubt that the stand taken by the chief minister needs to be appreciated by those empowered to discuss the revocation whether completely or partially, but a faceoff between the army and the state government would come handy only for those who want the situation to slip back to what it was when even a discussion on AFSPA revocation was not possible.

The assertion that the state police and the local intelligence are in favour of the chief minister’s decision is fraught with serious risks.

It could place the army and the state police in a situation of mutual mistrust that would have far reaching consequences on the joint operations carried out by them against the separatist guerrillas.

(Sheikh Qayoom can be contacted at sheikh.abdul@ians.in)

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