At a time when a near-consensus has evolved in Kashmir over repeal of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), the state government has sought an immediate response from the Centre on its proposal that eight of the state's 22 districts be taken out of the of the Act's purview.
Once — and if — it gets the Centre's nod, the Omar Abdullah government will do away with the special powers security forces enjoy in five districts in Jammu region and three in the Valley, official sources told HT on Sunday.
As a first step, however, the Centre has to decide on removal of the Disturbed Areas Act in the eight districts — Jammu, Samba, Kathua, Reasi, Udhampur in the Jammu region, and Srinagar, Budgam and Ganderbal in Kashmir — in accordance with the proposal of the state government in May.
AFSPA provides a legal shield to security forces to shoot terrorists or suspected terrorists without inviting prosecution. Also, arrests can be made without warrants.
Abdullah has added an urgency tag to the proposal after the current unrest in the valley that started on June 11.
The Centre, however, has concerns about the situation if the security situation worsens and it has to re-invoke these provisions.
Opposition People's Democratic Party president Mehbooba Mufti, who had launched a public campaign on the issue in February 2007, said: "This (repealing AFSPA) should have been done long ago." She said militancy had declined in the state and "there was no need for troops or special powers".
Chairman of the moderate faction of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference Mirwaiz Umar Farooq said repealing the Act and removing troops from civilian areas could become a "starting point" in initiating a dialogue on the Kashmir issue.
"If the government of India does all this, it would strengthen those who want a step-by-step approach in resolving the Kashmir issue," the separatist leader told HT on Sunday.
AFSPA was first invoked in July 1990 in the entire Valley and a 20-km radius along the Line of Control in the Jammu region. It was extended to other parts of Jammu in August 2001.