New Delhi: A government-appointed panel has recommended that the Centre review the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (Afspa) in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K), initiate talks with the separatist Hurriyat Conference, and set up a constitutional committee to bring peace to the state, while asserting that it is an integral part of India.
The panel also suggested giving permanent status to Article 370 that gives special status to J&K. It also recommended that Pakistan be allowed to join talks in case stakeholders in the Himalayan state are willing to reach a settlement.
The government on Thursday released the report of the panel headed by journalist Dileep Padgaonkar, but declined to endorse the content. It said the views in the report are those of the interlocutors—Padgaonkar, Radha Kumar and M.M. Ansari.
“The government has not yet taken any decisions on the report. Government will welcome an informed debate on the contents of the report,” the Union home ministry said in a press statement.
The panel was set up on 13 October 2010 following sporadic incidents of violence that killed more than 100 people in a span of six months. It was mandated to suggest a road map towards peace and hold a sustained dialogue with all sections of society in the state. It submitted its report on 12 October last year.
File photo of Jammu Kashmir policemen frisking civilians during a search operation in Srinagar. AP
Afspa empowers members of the armed forces to shoot suspected militants, arrest suspects without a warrant, enter and search any premises to make arrests, and gives legal immunity to officers involved in such incidents. The Act has been a subject of debate since the violence of 2010, with chief minister Omar Abdullah demanding its withdrawal.
Through the 1952 Delhi Agreement, J&K was integrated into India with special status. It was acknowledged that sovereignty in all matters other than those specified in the Instrument of Accession continues to reside in the state.
“The group of interlocutors does not recommend a pure and simple return to the pre-1953 situation. This would create a dangerous constitutional vacuum in the Centre-state relationship. The clock cannot be set back,” the report said.
It recommended that the constitutional committee review all central Acts and Articles of the Constitution of India extended to the state after the signing of the 1952 agreement.
The committee will undertake a study that will determine whether, and to what extent, the central Acts and Articles of the Constitution of India have dented J&K’s special status and abridged the state government’s powers to cater to the welfare of its people.
The interlocutors report on Jammu and Kashmir has recommended withdrawing the controversial Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act. But Mint’s SahilMakkar says the report has found few takers across India’s political spectrum.
“Finally, this group recommends that the search for a solution should not be made contingent on India-Pakistan talks. If the stakeholders in Jammu and Kashmir are willing to enter into a settlement, the door can always be kept open for Pakistan to join,” the report said.
The interlocutors recommended that J&K’s distinctive status guaranteed by Article 370 must be upheld. Article 370 says that except defence, foreign affairs, finance and communications, the Indian Parliament needs the state government’s concurrence for applying all other laws.
The principal opposition Bharatiya Janata Party rejected the panel’s recommendations to make Article 370 a permanent feature of the Constitution. “We expect government will also reject this document which weakens India’s position,” the party’s spokeswomen Nirmala Sitaraman said.
“This shows the government has no respect for the institution of Parliament and a report of such importance should have been first laid on the floor of Parliament, and this is despite one of our members reminding home minister P. Chidambaram about tabling the report before Parliament,” she said.
The reports comes at time when Chidambaram is reviewing the law and order situation along with chief minister Abdullah in the state. Chidambaram was not available for comment. We “will take a few days to examine the report, discuss it with senior colleagues, (and) then react”, Abdullah said in a posting on his Twitter account.
The moderate faction of the Hurriyat Conference also rejected the interlocutors’ report, saying confidence-building measures (CBMs) cannot be a way out and people of the state want a “political solution”, while the hardline faction said it never took cognizance of the panel’s existence.
“This report has tried to project CBMs as a solution, which we reject... CBMs are a welcome step, but CBMs can never be a solution of Kashmir issue... The fact is (the) majority of the people of Jammu and Kashmir want a political solution,” said Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, chairman of the moderate faction.
The panel has also suggested withdrawal of police complaints against first-time and minor offenders, amnesty for militants who renounce violence and their rehabilitation, rehabilitation of all victims of violence, reduction of the intrusive presence of security forces, and constant review of the implementation of various laws meant to counter militancy and the return of Kashmiri Pandits who fled the valley.
Makrand Gadgil in Mumbai and PTI contributed to this story.