UPA bets on all-party meet on Kashmir

Kashmir violence spreads to more areas

UPA bets on all-party meet on Kashmir

A day after police firing claimed 17 lives in Kashmir, violence swept through more areas of the Valley on Tuesday. Police and security forces opened fire in at least 20 places to disperse protesters amid very strict curfew, which was extended even to rural areas, and shoot-at-sight orders.

Thirteen people were injured and the condition of three was said to be critical. Curfew remained imposed on all the major towns of Kashmir.

Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah scotched speculations that he would resign following the authorities’ inability to end violence. He said he would not “plunge the state into a bigger crisis by leaving it headless at this stage”.

With the crisis far from defused, the all-party meeting, which the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) convened for Wednesday, was the government’s response to deal with the Armed Forces’ Special Powers Act (AFSPA) whose dilution now might further complicate efforts to bring stability back to a restive Valley.

Besides, the government is aware that reducing the Army’s powers to operate in a disturbed region would be akin to handing the BJP an issue on the platter, especially when the country’s armed forces’ chiefs are against its withdrawal or dilution. At the same time, the Defence and Home ministries have different perceptions over the continuation of the controversial legislation.

The meeting is expected to witness fireworks, especially after veteran BJP leader L K Advani opposed any dilution of the law and lambasted the government for being “clueless and spineless” over Kashmir.

While the main opposition party in Jammu and Kashmir — People’s Democratic Party—is likely to attend the meeting, the National Conference will strongly demand the revocation of AFSPA or at least a partial dilution in its operation in a state which virtually on the edge.

As Srinagar remained cut off from the rest of the country—flights have been cancelled for three days—the Centre hoped that the all-party meeting would help it find some solution to the fast deteriorating situation.

Government sources said a CCS meeting would be held immediately after the all-party deliberation which will begin at 11:30 am at the Prime Minister’s 7, Race Course Road residence. Denying that the government was sitting on taking a decision on AFSPA, Defence Minister A K Antony said Monday’s CCS meeting carefully assessed all aspects of the evolving situation in the Valley and then decided to consult other political parties.

Antony, who was understood to have opposed the dilution of AFSPA, was echoing the views of the defence forces. Chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee and IAF chief Air Marshal P V Naik joined the Army topbrass to defend the legislation, saying soldiers  needed protection available under AFSPA and the government was sensitive to the requirements of the armed forces.

While Omar Abdullah was admittedly piqued by the CCS’s decision to refer the issue over the AFSPA for a political discussion, a meeting of the National Conference’s core group in Srinagar on Tuesday indicated that the state government will go along with the outcome of the all-party meeting.

Union Home Minister P Chidambaram, said to be in favour of dilution of AFSPA, spoke to Abdullah on the situation in the Valley. There are some indications that the parties at Wednesday’s meeting may appeal to Kashmiris and various political groups that are leading the agitation in the Valley to end violence and come forward for talks.

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