Gen Bikram's appointment: J&K hopes to clinch AFSPA issue now
With just one announcement in the change of the guard in the Indian Army, the whole discourse on the repeal of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) in Jammu and Kashmir has transformed from skepticism to high optimism.
A new mood of high optimism spawned after the announcement of the appointment of Eastern Command chief Lt. Gen. Bikram Singh as the next army chief. It has spurred the hopes of the Omar Abdullah government that there would be flexibility in the army over the AFSPA issue.
The government here hopes that the new army chief would be flexible on the AFSPA issue, government sources told Hindustan Times, after their stiff stand-off with the outgoing Chief of Army Staff Gen V K Singh over the issue.
For the Omar Abdullah government, Gen. VK Singh was 'rigid'.
The chief minister who had hosted breakfast for the army chief in November last year had failed to break the ice on the recall of AFSPA from some areas of Jammu and Kashmir, where army had neither been deployed nor conducted operations for years together.
Thereafter, there has been little or no communication between the state government and the army since then.
For Omar Abdullah, the removal of AFSPA has become a matter of political prestige. He wants his October 21st (2011) promise of removing the special powers of the security forces to be translated into action on the ground.
That has not been happening so far.
Political rival, Peoples Democratic Party, had made this 'issue' as its swan song in 2007 and had led a campaign within and outside the state legislature for the demilitarisation and removal of the special powers of the security forces. It did so, even when it was a part of the Congress-PDP coalition government that time.
In fact, PDP had echoed, what Omar had said in a statement in the aftermath of his uncle Mustafa Kamal's diatribe against the army after a couple of grenade attacks in October itself, that the matter should be discussed with all, including army.
Sources in the government made it clear that they would wait for the change of the guard at the army chief's level before resuming talks on the AFSPA .
"The policy issues are not guided by these changes, a policy is a policy", said a senior army officer on condition of anonymity.
But the perception and the tone and tenor of the dialogue can change with the change of the individuals at the top, according to sources in the state government.
The AFSPA which gives immunity to the soldiers in counter-insurgency operations for their acts of omission and commission, is in force in 20 out of 22 districts of the state.