A crucial meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) on Monday will consider lifting of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) from four districts of Jammu and Kashmir, in an attempt to stem the escalating violence in the Valley, which has claimed 70 lives since early June.
The CCS will also consider sending an all-party delegation to the troubled region.
With opinion within the Congress divided on the issue, and the Army objecting to any reduction of the geographical area in which the Act is applicable the outcome of the meeting will depend on the PM. The Act gives the army a large measure of immunity during its operations.
At a meeting of the Congress core committee on Friday, Defence Minister A.K. Antony and Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee opposed the proposal to lift AFSPA. (Other members of the CCS are Home Minister P Chidambaram and External Affairs Minister S M Krishna.) Antony played down the differences.
“There are no serious differences in the cabinet. When we discuss certain things there may be various points of view. The government's decision is final,” he said in Thiruvanathapuram on Sunday.
Special ex-gratia payments to the families of the civilians killed in firing by security forces since June, a reworked rehabilitation scheme for surrendered militants, release of arrested youths and withdrawal of several cases against stone-throwers are the other proposals before the CCS. With separatists already rejecting as inconsequential all proposals before the CCS, the centre has little leeway. “The separatists have already jacked up their demands,” a union minister said, referring to moderate Hurriyat leader Mirwaiz Omar Farooq’s statement that Kashmir needed self-determination, not a political package.
While the senior leadership at the Centre is sceptical about the outcome of a package, Chief Minister Omar Abdullah has urged the Centre to take a “calculated risk.”
Abdullah met Antony and Mukherjee last week to plead his case. Financial assistance is not part of the package, as J&K already gets Rs 10,000 crore annually from centre under previous packages. Sources said the government could make the CCS decisions public in one go, or in stages .
The meeting will also discuss, what a member of the CCS described as the “abject failure” of the Omar Abdullah government. “Despite our gentle nudges, he is not taking the situation seriously enough” a source said, referring to Abdullah’s trip to Delhi on the day of Eid even as the Valley erupted in violence.
Abdullah has not acted upon several suggestions made by the prime minister — such as constituting the accountability commission, vigilance commission and the state information commission. Despite the Centre’s frustration with Abdullah, the question of removing him is not being discussed, said government sources.
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