Documentary evidence has revealed that senior Jammu and Kashmir-based army commanders had agreed to partial withdrawal of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) from some areas in the state nearly two years ago, a move opposed tooth and nail by headquarters in Delhi.
HT has accessed minutes of crucial meetings that clearly point to the fact that the local commanders agreed with the oft-made demand of chief minister Omar Abdullah. The state government continues to push for AFSPA’s revocation and a fresh plea, sources reveal, will be made by the CM on Saturday, when defence minister AK Antony is scheduled to visit Kashmir.
According to the documents, the GoC-in-C, Northern Command, told a meeting of the Unified Command in September 2010: “Certain areas can be recommended for withdrawal of AFSPA but not in sensitive areas where forces have to be kept. Before taking any decision, the army should be taken into confidence.’’
At the same meeting, the GoC, 16 Corps, is quoted as saying, “Whenever a decision is taken, to be kept in mind that protection is provided to the army.’’
Abdullah has been lobbying for partial withdrawal from relatively peaceful areas and while he found support with home minister P Chidambaram, the idea met with stiff resistance from the recently retired army chief, Gen VK Singh.
Asked about the Unified Command meeting, Abdullah told HT: “I’ve never made mention of the minutes but their authenticity cannot be denied. We weren’t able to narrow down our differences with the chief in Delhi.”
“I met Gen VK Singh and he offered to hold discussions in Delhi. We kept pushing for dates with Army HQ, but were never given time,” Abdullah said.
The chief minister also said, “There is a distinct change in the security environment in the state and there is a good case for reviewing the continuation of AFSPA. I am only advocating for its withdrawal from areas and districts that are not affected by terrorist activity.”
The army commanders agreed to a withdrawal from non-sensitive areas but the decision, it appears, was overturned in Delhi, even though all inputs and intelligence available in the chief’s office came from the state.
In another Unified Command meeting, held in August 2011, the Intelligence Bureau additional director, in fact, said that “recent successful anti-militancy operations have neutralised the Lashkar-e-Taiba to a large extent and there has been effective control on infiltration.” At the same meeting, the GOC of the Srinagar-based 15 Corps, while giving details of some recent infiltration attempts, “praised the efforts of the J&K Police and central paramilitary forces for their outstanding performance in anti-militancy operations”.
It is important to note that the army commanders agreed to a partial withdrawal of AFSPA in 2010, a year that witnessed major violence in the summer months. The chief’s rejection of AFSPA in 2011 came at a time when the violence graph was dipping, according to data released by the ministry of home affairs.
Incidents of violence fell from 488 in 2010 to 189 in 2011. Similarly, infiltration attempts saw a steep reduction — from 489 in 2010 to less than one third in 2011.
General VK Singh, who stayed opposed to partial revocation of the controversial law, maintained, till his retirement, that AFSPA was a functional requirement and in one interview also said that the “people of Kashmir want the army to stay’.
Sources in the ministry of defence point to a personal problem between Singh and Abdullah but when asked, the chief minister said, “I do not want to get into a war of words. I will continue to push for partial withdrawal. The issue is not closed.’’
The local commanders, who initially okayed the withdrawal, then changed their stance and in another meeting of the unified headquarter, the GoC 15 Corps, while discussing AFSPA, put up a slide in his presentation that said — Who are the ones demanding withdrawal? The answers given in the slide were: (a) Pakistan, (b) ISI agents, (c) terrorists.
Abdullah, who was also present at the meeting, asked which category he was in.