New Delhi: The Union government managed to buy itself more time till after a review of the ground situation in Kashmir by an all-party delegation even as it, in the absence of a consensus, shied away from any decision on the sensitive issue of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA).
Decision deferred: People’s Democratic Party chief Mehbooba Mufti (second from right) and other leaders at an all-party meet on Kashmir at the Prime Minister’s residence in New Delhi on Wednesday. Arvind Yadav / Hindustan Times
Meanwhile, violence spread to new areas of Kashmir on Wednesday. About 14 demonstrators and one policeman were killed on 13 September, when, according to state police officials, an Iranian television report of a Quran being desecrated in the US fuelled the anger. The valley has been witnessing street violence and anti-establishment demonstrations for the past three months that has led to the death of 90 people.
The decision to send an all-party delegation was taken at a five-hour-long, all-party meeting convened by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. The government is expected to take a decision on the withdrawal of the AFSPA based on the findings of the delegation that is expected to travel to Kashmir either later this week or early next week.
“The leaders agreed that the delegation should meet all sections of the people and gather all shades of opinion,” a statement from the government said.
Singh, who addressed the political party leaders at his residence, said he was “shocked and distressed to see young men and women—even children—joining the protests on the streets.” He said his government, which has come under criticism from opposition parties for its failure to control the situation, also said it is ready for dialogue with any group that does not use violence.
Two days after the Union cabinet indicated that there was a “governance and trust deficit” in the state run by Omar Abdullah of the National Conference, the ruling Congress’ coalition partner, the Prime Minister said he had told the state government to “restore peace and public order in order to create conditions congenial to a dialogue process.”
Congress president Sonia Gandhi, who spoke at the all-party meeting held at Singh’s residence, linked the turmoil in Kashmir to anger and pain among Kashmiri youth who grew up in “conflict and brutality”. She added that their “legitimate aspirations” must be respected and a magnanimous approach adopted to give them hope.
However, political differences among the parties were evident at the meeting. Mehbooba Mufti, the leader of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), the main opposition in Jammu and Kashmir, severely criticized the state government. Mufti, who had earlier skipped a meeting convened by the Prime Minister over the Kashmir crisis, demanded unconditional talks with all stakeholders, including separatists. She also demanded the release of the youths who were detained during the protests. “There is no ready-made solution for the Kashmir problem. It should be” examined compassionately, Mufti said. The PDP leader also demanded confidence-building measures and a complete revocation of the AFSPA.
Although the centre has been considering amendments to the AFSPA, deemed draconian by its critics, the defence ministry has been opposed to this, saying the armed forces require legal protection while dealing with situations such as that in Kashmir. The Abdullah government had proposed a partial withdrawal of the act.
The main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party opposed any amendments to the AFSPA but its spokesperson Ravi Shankar Prasad said the party would cooperate with the government for “any dialogue within the framework of the constitution” with those who “abjure violence.”
PTI contributed to this story.