The Centre took its first decisive step to quell the three-and-a-half-month-long turmoil in the Kashmir Valley on Saturday by announcing that it intended to reduce its security footprint there and appoint a group of interlocutors to hold “sustained dialogue” with Kashmiri leaders.
These were the two most important features of the eight-point peace package the Centre unveiled after a meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Security in New Delhi.
The package includes advice to the state to immediately release all youth detained for stone-throwing, reopen schools, make R5 lakh ex-gratia payment to the families of the 108 people killed in protests, redeploy security forces — reducing in particular their bunkers and checkposts — and take a decision on areas from where the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) can be lifted.
“We think these steps should address the concerns of different sections of J&K, including (those of) the protesters,” Home Minister P. Chidambaram said.
“To the extent the government’s approach is anti-separatist and pro-citizen, we will welcome it,” said the BJP, which is opposed to any move to dilute the AFSPA.
The People’s Democratic Party, the main opposition in the state, joined J&K Chief Minister Omar Abdullah — who has been on the firing line for the “governance deficit” in the state — to welcome the central plan as “a good first step”.
JKLF leader Yasin Malik wanted to discuss the proposal with his colleagues before responding but hardline separatist leader S.A.S. Geelani called the initiative an “eyewash”.
Abdullah said the Unified Command — which has representatives from the security forces, including the army and the state government — would meet within a few days to decide on redeployment of forces.
Kashmiri people resent the presence of security personnel — army or central paramilitary force — manning check posts or in bunkers that came up over the last two decades to fight terrorists.
Officials said redeployment of forces that would aim at reducing the visibility of central forces was a significant step but would be executed in a phased manner. Chidambaram said the government would also appoint a group of interlocutors under an eminent person to begin the process of a sustained dialogue including political groups, (and) youth bodies.
The decisions come days after Chidambaram led an all party delegation to the state to reach out to Kashmiri people.
The CCS was slated to meet next week. But with the Ayodhya verdict out of the way this weekend, the government seized the first opportunity to seal its Kashmir plan lest the gains made by the all party team’s visit were frittered away.