Consensus on AFSPA unlikely at all-party meeting

Consensus on AFSPA unlikely at all-party meeting

"The Congress or the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government does not want to take any unilateral decision. It wants wider consultations and preferably a consensus," a Congress office bearer told IANS ahead of the meeting.

"The Congress is giving top priority to the Kashmir situation. That is why party president (Sonia Gandhi) is attending the meet."

The Congress leader said the party may recommend an all-party delegation visiting the state to have a first-hand impression of the situation. The party wants the team to visit all the three regions - the Kashmir Valley, Jammu region and the cloudburst-ravaged Ladakh.

Sonia Gandhi, state president Saifuddin Soz, former chief minister Ghulam Nabi Azad and Minister of State in the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) Prithviraj Chavan, who is also the Congress general secretary in charge of Jammu and Kashmir, will be among the party leaders attending the meet.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will chair the meet, which will be attended by senior ministers A.K. Antony, Pranab Mukherjee and P. Chidambaram.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) team will include Arun Jaitley, leader of the opposition in the Rajya Sabha, and senior leader L.K. Advani, party sources said.

Union minister Farooq Abdullah will lead the ruling National Conference team, informed sources said.

However, a consensus on the withdrawal of the AFSPA, which gives special powers to the armed forces, from parts of Jammu and Kashmir may elude the all-party meet with the BJP vehmently opposing the suggestion.

"We don't want the hands of the army in Kashmir to be tied down while the separatists will have a free run," Jaitley told reporters.

The National Conference, the People's Democratic Party (PDP), separatist  groups and human rights activists have been demanding the withdrawal of the AFSPA. At the national level, the Left parties have been supporting the withdrawal proposal.

The Congress has not made a clear opinion on the issue, saying the party wanted "wider consultation across the political spectrum " on the sensitive issue.

The government Tuesday denied reports of internal differences over AFSPA and expressed confidence that a solution on it will be found.

Defence Minister Antony said the government will take a final decision on a Kashmir package, including withdrawal of AFSPA, at the all-party meeting.

"Before we take a final decision, it is better to involve everyone," Antony said.
The Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) Monday deferred a decision on withdrawing the AFSPA from parts of Jammu and Kashmir.

This was one of the measures being considered to defuse the volatile situation in the valley, where 88 people, mainly teenagers and youth, have died in violent protests since June 11.

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