Kashmir in flames, Omar seeks centre’s help (Roundup)

August 2nd, 2010 - 8:28 pm ICT by IANS  

Manmohan Singh New Delhi, Aug 2 (IANS) Fighting an unending cycle of violence that has left 19 more civilians dead since Friday, Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah Monday said political initiatives, including revoking the legal powers of the armed forces, were needed to tackle the situation, but a semblance of normalcy was necessary to make that happen.
Abdullah was summoned to Delhi for a meeting with the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh-led cabinet panel on security as fresh violence in the Kashmir Valley took the toll of civilian deaths to 36, mostly in firing by security forces, since June 11.

“I had an extensive meeting with the prime minister. I came here with a single-point agenda of briefing the government of India about the situation as we see it. We discussed the situation and the steps needed to be taken,” a grim looking Abdullah told reporters before flying back to Srinagar.

The meeting, attended by Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, Home Minister P. Chidambaram, Defence Minister A.K. Antony and External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna, was part of the prime minister’s initiative after the situation worsened in the Valley since Friday.

It was the second meeting over Kashmir of the Cabinet Committee on Security in less than 24 hours.

Sources said the cabinet panel assured the chief minister of the central government’s full support but urged him to get tough while dealing with protestors and also reach out to the people more visibly.

Large parts of the Kashmir Valley have been under strict curfew for the past month with intermittent relaxations, but there was no such relief since Friday when violence escalated after a lull.

Abdullah, battling sharp criticism for his alleged failure to tackle the situation, said the central and the state governments were ready to consider certain political initiatives to end the Kashmir problem.

“The problem of Jammu and Kashmir is inherently political. It requires a political package more than an economic package… For any such initiative, political or administrative, a certain amount of normalcy is absolutely vital for us to be able to have any kind of sustained engagement at the levels that we wanted to take place at,” he said.

Asked what the initiatives were, the chief minister said it included “looking at (repealing) the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), reducing the footprint of the security forces in the state, rehabilitation of boys who have crossed over (to Pakistan for arms training) and want to come back now and financial relief to the victims of the ongoing trouble”.

The AFSPA gives armed forces legal immunity for their actions. It was extended to Jammu and Kashmir in July 1990.

Abdullah appealed to the people of the state to “break the cycle of violence (that) we have locked ourselves into”.

“Protests lead to deaths, leading to further protests leading to further casualties. The cycle of violence must end,” he said.

Denying that the government was mulling any change in the rules of engagement of security forces, Abdullah said the police and paramilitary were maintaining restraint.

“My hands are tied only because I want to keep casualties to a minimum. But restraint cannot be one-sided,” he said referring to an incident of arson Sunday when an angry mob burnt down a police station and four people were killed when the explosives kept inside went off.

He said the state government has sought “augmentation” of security forces. “There is a need to augment Rapid Action Forces as they specialize in dealing with situations like this.”

However, in a shift from his earlier stand and also that of the central government that the protests were sponsored by elements from across the border, Abdullah said the demonstrations in the valley were “leaderless”. “I don’t believe that any one particular group or individual is directing what is happening in the valley.”

The violence and unrest in the Kashmir Valley also reverberated in the Lok Sabha.

Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader L.K. Advani raised the issue in the house and demanded that the prime minister explain what the government was doing to control the situation.

“Violence and anarchy are just the symptoms. What are reasons for this? What is the government doing?” Advani asked.

Home Minister P. Chidambaram said he hoped to make a statement on the Kashmir situation “as early as possible”.

“Jammu and Kashmir is a very sensitive state and problems are well known. Over the last few days, the situation (in the Kashmir Valley) has taken a serious turn. After July 19, there was a lull. But after July 30, the situation has again taken a serious turn,” Chidambaram said.

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