When chief minister Omar Abdullah said last Friday the Armed Forces Special Powers Act would be “removed from certain areas within the next few days”, perhaps he had not anticipated the announcement would recoil on him in less than a week.
Now it is threatening to become a political albatross around his neck.
The declaration has created fresh strains within his coalition government and the army has upped the ante against such a move. The timing suggests Abdullah had perhaps wanted to checkmate the opposition People’s Democratic Party, which has launched a massive offensive against him, and also to silence those who want a Congress nominee to become chief minister after he completes three years in office in January next year.
The fact remains he had committed himself to repealing the law the day he became chief minister. His advisor Mubarak Gul explained at a gathering in Srinagar on Wednesday that “Omar has been for the revocation of the AFSPA from day one”.
Under the Jammu and Kashmir constitution, the chief minister has the powers to do away with the Disturbed Areas Act, which involves the invoking of the AFSPA, by issuing a notification with his signature. But he didn’t do it because he had wanted to have wider consultations, and convened two unified command meetings and formed two core committees to deliberate the sensitive issue.
In such a situation, Abdullah’s options are limited. If he removes the AFSPA even from the most peaceful areas, he would be facing challenges in overcoming the threat of terrorism in other parts of the state.
And, if he doesn’t do it, he would have to eat his words.
Sensing this dilemma, Jammu and Kashmir Congress chief Saif-ud-Din Soz said “the Congress was not consulted”. People’s Democratic Party chief Mehbooba Mufti has described the situation as a “superficial and incompetent handling of the issue by the chief minister”.
Abdullah, however, has stuck to his position, reiterating his commitment to remove the AFSPA but with the army’s inputs.