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Saturday, July 28, 2012

AFSPA not on Antony’s Kashmir agenda

Defence Minister, Defence Secretary, Army chief to update themselves on security scenario

Ahmed Ali Fayyaz

SRINAGAR, Jul 27: Contrary to widespread speculations in media, union Defence Minister, A K Antony, has no agenda of discussing withdrawal of the controversial J&K Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), or an amendment thereto, during his two-day visit to the Valley. Antony, alongwith Defence Secretary, Shashi Kant Sharma, and Chief of Army Staff, Gen Bikram Singh, is arriving here on Saturday to refresh himself on the security scenario.

Well-placed sources in Ministry of Defence revealed to Early Times that Antony and his team were scheduled to hold a series of meetings in the Valley, mostly with GOC-in-C of Nrthern Command, Lt Gen Parnaik, GOCs of Srinagar and Nagrota-based 15th and 16th Corps, besides other senior officials of the three Corps (14th, 15th and 16th) and the Northern Command. They said that Antony would refresh himself about the latest obtaining security scenario, frequency of infiltration attempts, counterinsurgency operations and general defence preparedness.

Sources said that in hours of his arrival in Srinagar, Antony would chair a Unified Headquarters meeting in the afternoon on Saturday at Nehru Guest House. Among others it would be attended by Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, as head of the Unified Headquarters, his Security Advisors (GOCs of 15th and 16th Corps), GOC-in-C Northern Command, Minister of State Home, Nasir Aslam Wani, Chief Secretary Madhav Lal, Principal Secretary Home, B R Sharma, Director General of Police, Ashok Prasad, representative of IB, RAW, CRPF, BSF besides union Defence Secretary and the Army chief.

Sources disclosed that Antony and his team from New Delhi would hold an open interaction with all security related matters, including the mechanism to be devised with regard to return of Kashmiri militants from Pakistan and Pakistan-administered Kashmir under the scheme floated by J&K Chief Minister in coordination with the Centre. Discussion, according to sources, has been necessitated in the wake of the security forces’ observation that a number of the non-applicant militants too were returning to the Valley, alongwith their Pakistani wives and children, through both, specified as well as non-specified routes.

However, sources made it clear that there would be no reviewing of AFSPA---its revocation or amendment---for the Army as well as Defence Minister already made their stand clear on the subject. They, according to sources, are continuously holding the belief that despite considerable improvement in the situation security forces, still operating and being attacked by militants, were in need of legal protection with regard to their activity and operations in J&K. According to these sources, J&K Chief Minister as well as union Home Minister, P Chidambaram, were pressing hard for two amendments to AFSPA but Army and Ministry of Defence had already convinced the highest level forum---Cabinet Committee on Security---that the proposed amendment could have a negative bearing on the security forces’ maneuverability and operations in the disturbed state.

Significantly, in New Delhi, Antony refused to elaborate on what he would discuss with the J&K Chief Minister. "I will also have detailed discussions with Chief Minister Omar Abdullah and our armed forces. Defence Secretary, Army Chief and other officials will be there and we will have a detailed discussion over the security scenario," Antony told the reporters.

It will be for the first time that the new Army chief, Gen Bikram Singh, new Corps Commander (15th Corps) Lt Gen Om Prakash, and the new DGP, Ashok Prasad, would be participating in the Unified Headquarters meeting at Srinagar. Gen Singh has the distinction of having worked as Commanding Officer of a battalion and Brigade Commander in Kashmir. Three of his colleagues, including a Commanding Officer, had died and he had himself sustained critical injuries when militants in ambush near Janglat Mandi, Anantnag, had attacked the convoy that was returning from Achhabal. Death of a resident of Machhil area of Kupwara in this encounter had later led to a controversy as Army described him as a foreign militant and his family members claimed that he was a civilian, never involved in militancy. A petition filed by a human rights group on behalf of the family is still pending adjudication in High Court, even as Gen Sigh has got a clean chit.

Sources said that in addition to a series of meetings with senior officials of armed forces and J&K government functionaries, Antony would call on separately on Chief Minister Omar Abdullah and Governor, N N Vohra, who have invited the Central lead on a lunch or a dinner. He would also visit some forward positions on the LoC and interact with the field commanders and troops. It was not immediately clear whether the Central team would also visit the Indian posts on Siachan glacier and a memorial of the soldiers on occasion of the anniversary of Army’s victory in Kargil War of 1999.


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