New Delhi: Unable to strike a consensus within and outside the cabinet, the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government on Monday deferred a decision on Kashmir, including the withdrawal of the controversial Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), on a day 14 people were killed in an upsurge of violence in the state.
Protest march: Demonstrations on the streets of Srinagar, fuelled in part by a report of the Quran being desecrated in the US. Altaf Qadri / AP
A three-hour meeting of the cabinet committee on security (CCS) decided to convene a meeting of all political parties on Wednesday to “elicit their views on the way forward” even as it conceded that a “trust deficit” and a “governance deficit” existed in Kashmir.
An official statement released after the CCS meeting signalled the government’s intent to resume dialogue with all stakeholders, including the separatist group Hurriyat, and expressed hope of generating consensus for a new Kashmir package at the all-party meeting.
“The dialogue can embrace all the issues that agitate the minds of the people of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K), especially the youth. The dialogue can address issues such as the trust deficit and the governance deficit,” the statement said.
It expressed distress over the turn of events in the valley, which has been rocked by protests against the government and security forces since mid-June, and urged the people of Kashmir to maintain peace. However, the statement made no reference to any amendments to AFSPA.
J&K chief minister Omar Abdullah, who was in the Capital since Saturday, met Congress party president Sonia Gandhi and home minister P. Chidambaram ahead of the CCS meeting.
While Chidambaram backs some amendments to AFSPA suggested by Abdullah, defence minister A.K. Antony has opposed the idea. The armed forces have expressed reservations over proposed cuts in their powers, saying a partial withdrawal or dilution of the Act could affect the morale of the forces.
As violence escalated in the state, Abdullah returned to Srinagar and chaired a state cabinet meeting. The state cabinet condemned the alleged act of desecration of a holy book in the US and appealed to the people not to take the law into their hands while staging protests against the incident.
“The youth of Kashmir are our citizens and their grievances have to be addressed,” Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, meanwhile, told a combined commanders’ conference in the National Capital earlier. “We have to ensure better delivery of services and generate avenues for economic advancement for the people of that state.”
Singh reiterated his government’s offer of talks with “every person or group which abjures violence, within the framework of our Constitution”.
J&K police blamed the Hurriyat for the fresh violence on Monday that caused the death of 13 civilians and one security personnel. Over 50 people, including two superintendents of police, were critically injured in the violence. The death toll in violence that has swept the valley in the past three months has now crossed 80.
The epicentre of violence was Budgam district where a mob torched many government offices, police stations, buildings and vehicles. The violence then spilled over to many other districts.
“Today’s violence was in the backdrop of news flashed by a local channel about desecration of the holy Quran in the US,” J&K police chief Kuldeep Khoda said, adding that Hurriyat (G) leader Imtiyaz Haider and others had incited mob violence.