Omar threatens to quit as MP (Lead)

August 17th, 2008 - 7:10 pm ICT by IANS  

A file-photo of Amarnath Shrine

Srinagar, Aug 17 (IANS) National Conference president Omar Abdullah Sunday threatened to quit as member of parliament if security forces did not stop use of alleged excessive force and killings of Kashmiris agitating over the Amarnath land row. Expressing his anger over security forces’ ways of quelling Kashmir protests against the land transfer to a Hindu shrine board and subsequent “economic blockade” by agitators in Jammu, Abdullah said: “If voices like mine are not heard in New Delhi, I will have no option but to resign from parliament.”

Addressing a hurriedly called press conference, the National Conference chief said the government should hold a sustained dialogue with the protesting stakeholders - Hindu groups in Jammu and Hurriyat Conference in Kashmir.

“The government should talk to (separatist Hurriyat Conference’s) Coordination Committee and the Shri Amarnath Sangarsh Samiti (SASS) to resolve the issue,” he said fearing the state was already on the “edge of the cliff” of communal divide.

“All have to move a step back and start thinking afresh to solve the row, otherwise the unity of the state is at threat,” Abdullah said.

Dispute over transferring a piece of government land for the Shri Amarnath Shrine Board (SASB) and alleged economic blockade by protesters in Jammu have threatened the division of the only Muslim-majority state of India on religious lines.

The Jammu and Kashmir government had earlier this year allotted the land to the board for raising structures for pilgrims to the Amarnath cave shrine in south Kashmir Himalayas.

But the order was revoked July 1 following violent protests in the Muslim-dominated Kashmir Valley who feared that this could mark the settlement of “outsiders” in the state that enjoys constitutional protection for its unique identity.

The revocation sparked off a violent counter-campaign in the Hindu-majority Jammu region, which also led to blockade of food, fuel and medicinal supplies to the valley that has been witnessing huge pro-freedom rallies in the past days.

At least 22 Kashmiri Muslim protesters have been killed in police firing that led to reigniting of separatist sentiments in the troubled valley after years of relative peace and stability - something that Pakistan-sponsored militancy almost failed to do in two decades.

“The government should allow people to vent their anger but ask security forces to exhibit maximum restraint as they did in quelling Jammu protests,” said Abdullah, whose National Conference had also opposed the land transfer to the SASB.

“You have ways to stop agitation but you cannot kill people by shooting on the upper part of their bodies. You have to open fire on their legs, even that is not acceptable,” he later told IANS.

The current crisis, he said, should be an eye opener for New Delhi that tourism, trade and development were not “the answers to the Kashmir issue”.

“Let New Delhi understand that and resolve the issue with Pakistan soon by addressing the basic sentiments of people.”

Abdullah said India has missed the opportunity of resolving the Kashmir issue during the tenure of President Pervez Musharraf.

He asked New Delhi to implement the recommendations of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s Kashmir working groups.

“You have solution to all the Kashmir problems in the working group recommendations. Implement them without wasting further time.”

Abdullah also opposed any move to delay state legislative assembly elections, due later this year, saying: “The current crisis was messed up by elected government and would be best resolved by an elected government only.”

Jammu and Kashmir is currently under the governor’s rule after the state assembly was dissolved July 11. The previous Congress-led coalition government was reduced to minority after its key ally People’s Democratic Party (PDP) withdrew support opposing the land transfer.

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