The amendments to the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) are ready and they will be submitted to the Cabinet soon, Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram said on Wednesday.
He was addressing the All-India Editors’ Conference on Social and Infrastructure Issues, which concluded here.
However, he clarified that the amendments would be applicable to the entire country and not to Jammu and Kashmir alone.
Blaming Pakistan for continuing its support to militancy in Jammu and Kashmir, Mr. Chidambaram said: “They [Pakistan] are training and brainwashing the youth to create mayhem in India, and they is no let-up in their support to militancy.”
However, thanks to the tremendous work done by security forces, there was a marked change in the security scenario, he said. The number of violent incidents in the first nine months this year stood at 395, the lowest during the period in the past 8-9 years, he said.
He attributed the violence in the State to infiltration from across the international border and the Line of Control. Better systems to check infiltration had been put in place, and consequently there was a dip in the violence.
Mr. Chidambaram denied that there was any agreement with Pakistan on real-time information.
On the developmental front, he said mechanisms had been created to expedite the execution of projects under the Prime Minister’s Reconstruction Plan. A Group of Secretaries, led by the Cabinet Secretary, recently visited the State and reviewed the progress of the works.
The Secretaries of individual departments would visit the State next month to hold discussions with the State government and to make field visits. This would be followed by another visit by the Cabinet Secretary in February next year. “More and more Ministers should be encouraged to visit Jammu and Kashmir regularly.”
Welcoming Mr. Chidambaram’s statement that the government recognised there were different shades of opinion in Jammu and Kashmir and that it would hold consultations with all sections, Hurriyat Conference (moderate) chairman Mirwaiz Umar Farooq said that besides talks between Srinagar and New Delhi, dialogue between India and Pakistan was a must.
Mr. Chidambaram’s statement was a welcome change in the mindset of Delhi as he maintained that Kashmir was a political problem and needed an honourable solution, the Mirwaiz told The Hindu over the phone.
The Mirwaiz said the Hurriyat was for a meaningful dialogue and not a photo opportunity. “While we will also work for building a consensus, the government of India should also do so in the country to give credence to such a process,” he said.
The Mirwaiz welcomed the amendments proposed in the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, saying it would pave the way for relief to the people in State and it should be followed by reducing the troops in Jammu and Kashmir.
Expressing scepticism over Mr. Chidambaram’s statement on resuming talks, hardline Hurriyat leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani said there was nothing new in it. He said a solution to the Kashmir issue lay in tripartite talks aimed at giving the right of self-determination to the people of the State.
Union Information and Broadcasting Ministry has reached out to the media and civil society in a big way.
The initiative coincided with the All-India Editors’ Conference. The conference, opened by Chief Minister Omar Abdullah on Tuesday, was addressed by Mr. Chidambaram, Farooq Abdullah, Salman Khurshid and Ambika Soni.
Ms. Soni met representatives of the media and civil society to find out their difficulties. She held a meeting with representatives of the Kashmir Press Association. Ms. Soni said she would look into the issues facing the media. KPA president Ghulam Hassan Kaloo termed the meeting fruitful.
“She was very positive, and we are happy that the Minister gave us a room to put forth our problems,” he told The Hindu. “This is for the first time the government of India has reached out to us through an institutionalised mechanism, and we hope to see good results,” he said.
“She gave us a patient hearing, and whatever we projected before her she assured that her Ministry will look at those issues,” said Aziz Hajini, president of Adbee Markaz Kamraz, the oldest and biggest federation of cultural and literary organisations.
Javaid Rahi, national secretary of the Tribal Research and Cultural Foundation, too, hopes to get a better deal from the Ministry for the Gojri language.
“We are keen on expanding our activities in the State and will help the media in the State,” Neelam Kapoor, Principal Director-General of the Press Information Bureau, said.