No consensus on partial withdrawal or dilution or revocation of the Armed Forces Act

The all-party meeting on Jammu and Kashmir on Wednesday decided to send a delegation of political parties to the State to meet all sections of the people and assess the ground situation.

However, it failed to arrive at a consensus on partial withdrawal or dilution or revocation of the contentious Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA).

The meeting, convened by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, agreed that the delegation should meet all sections of the people and gather all shades of opinion. The visit will be facilitated by the Home Ministry and the Jammu and Kashmir government.

The government will take into account the deliberations at the meeting while considering measures and initiatives to reach out to the people. “The feedback received from the all-party delegation would form an important input into the government's evolving response on various issues relating to Jammu and Kashmir,” said a statement issued after the meeting, which lasted five-and-half hours.

The meeting agreed that the “Constitution of India provides ample scope to accommodate any legitimate political demand through dialogue, civil discourse and peaceful negotiations.”

Need for calm dialogue: Manmohan

Setting the tone for the meeting, the Prime Minister reiterated that the only path for lasting peace and prosperity in the State was that of dialogue and discussion. “It is indeed tragic that some of our people have forsaken this path during the recent days. I was shocked and distressed to see young men and women, even children, joining the protests on the streets.”

Dr. Singh said meaningful dialogue could happen only in an atmosphere free from violence and confrontation. “Discussions can take place only if we have calm and public order.” He reiterated his appeal to the State people, especially the youth, to eschew violence.

“We are ready for a dialogue with anybody or any group that does not espouse or practise violence. We have also told the State government to restore peace and public order in order to create conditions congenial to a dialogue process. The Central government will provide all possible assistance in this task.”

Sonia calls for healing

The meeting witnessed Congress president Sonia Gandhi, BJP chief Nitin Gadkari, People's Democratic Party leader Mehbooba Mufti and leaders from the four Left parties agreeing on the need for initiating dialogue with all sections of people in the State. Though all parties spoke in different terms about deficit in governance, no direct demand was made for the resignation of Chief Minister Omar Abdullah.

Ms. Gandhi called for setting aside ideological and political differences to arrive at suitable decisions that “will break this vicious cycle of violence and suffering.” She said her party was more than willing to support a process of “healing and dialogue” in partnership with the State people.

Linking the turmoil in Kashmir to “anger and pain” among youth who grew up in “conflict and brutality,” Ms. Gandhi said their “legitimate aspirations” must be respected and a magnanimous approach adopted to give them hope.

The Left parties said there should be accountability for the security forces and action taken on excesses and human rights violations. Pending the question of amending the AFSPA, the Disturbed Areas proclamation could be revoked from Srinagar and other centres.

BJP not for dilution of AFSPA

The BJP stuck to its known stand against any “dilution” of the AFSPA. It argued that such a move would “demoralise” the armed forces that had made sacrifices while fighting terror abetted from across the border.

Mr. Gadkari articulated his party's views at the meeting which was also attended by L.K. Advani, Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley. He said the party was not opposed to talks “which must be premised on abjuring violence and held within the framework of the Constitution.” In fact, the BJP would adopt a “constructive and cooperative approach” towards initiating a dialogue and participate in the all-party delegation for Kashmir.

Janata Dal (United) president Sharad Yadav favoured any step that could win the confidence and trust of the State people.