Stressing on “progressively” decreasing the footprints of security forces in Jammu and Kashmir, Chief Minister Omar Abdullah on Monday said conciliation and dialogue will always remain the best medium to seek a solution to all contentious issues.

Mr. Abdullah spoke on a variety of issues at the Chief Minister’s conference here, including Indo—Pak relations, withdrawal of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, and the removal of 24 bunkers from Srinagar city in coming months.

He also sought a telephone connection between Jammu and Kashmir and Pakistan—occupied—Kashmir for strengthening the trade between the two sides.

In his speech, Mr. Abdullah said after three continuous summers of discontent, the state saw a peaceful 2011, which to a great extent erased the painful memories of two decades of turbulence and unfolded the promise of a new beginning.

“I am hopeful that peace dividends achieved in the year 2011 will continue to percolate to the people, and usher in a new era of peace and development in the state,” he said.

About the policies of the National Conference—Congress government, he said “it has been our firm belief that agitations and confrontations are no means to resolve the issues involving contrary positions. Conciliation and dialogue has, and will always remain, the best medium of seeking solution to all the contentious issues“.

Welcoming the recent talks between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari, he said “the state has been emphasising on the need for initiating the dialogue process and has welcomed the initiatives taken by the Central Government in this behalf.”

Mr. Abdullah said that as the situation was fast improving, the footprints of security forces need to be decreased progressively so that the people can feel the impact of the changed security scenario.

“As many as 12 battalions of BSF and CRPF have been withdrawn from the state since 2009. 24 bunkers are being removed from Srinagar city in the coming months in addition to the 39 bunkers which have already been removed”.

On cross—LoC trade between two sides of Kashmir, Mr. Abdullah said while a number of steps have been taken to ease travel and trade across the LoC, there was a need to further ease it so that the benefits trickle down to trading partners.

“There is a need for restoration of telephonic links between Jammu and Kashmir and PoK, and putting in place a proper institutional arrangement by replacing the current barter system of trade which will also address the security concerns”.

He requested Home Minister P. Chidambaram to take up the matter with the concerned ministries so that cross—LoC trade can flourish in real terms.

Speaking on the contentious issue of AFSPA, he said he was of the firm belief that the Act had played a useful role in providing much—needed legal protection to the Army and para military forces while dealing with insurgency.

“However, now that there is a distinct change in the security environment in the state, there is a good case for reviewing the continuation of AFSPA. I am not advocating the withdrawal of AFSPA from districts and areas which are still infested with militancy, but a beginning can be made by withdrawing AFSPA from areas and districts which are not affected by the insurgent and terrorist activities.”

Presenting the militancy figures, Mr. Abdullah said there was a constant decline of more than 30 per cent of such incidents as compared to 2010. Against the 488 terrorist—related incidents in the year 2010, there were only 340 such incidents in 2011 and as against 47 civilians killed in 2010, 31 civilians were killed during 2011.

“Strict surveillance of our borders by the Security Forces and their tireless efforts in neutralising terrorists has resulted in considerable reduction in infiltration bids.

About 45.26 per cent decline has been registered in Net Infiltration during 2011. The Net Infiltration during 2010 was 95 as against 52 in 2011,” he said.

“Thanks to the cooperation of the people, commitment and professionalism of Security Forces and Jammu and Kashmir Police and adoption of the newly—framed Standing Operating Procedures (SOPs) to control serious law and order disturbances, the overall security scenario during the year 2011 has shown remarkable improvement,” he said.

However, there was a word of caution from the Chief Minister, who said even though there has been an improvement in the overall security situation, the threat to peace has not completely vanished.

“I must caution here that the progressive improvement in security situation should not lead us to complacency. We have to continue to maintain constant vigil and alertness and ensure, at the same time, that the fundamental rights and civil liberties guaranteed to our citizens by our Constitution are scrupulously maintained and respected.

“Therefore, while tackling the remnants of militancy with a stern hand, the State Government is committed to a policy of zero tolerance on the infringement of human rights,” he said.

He also referred to the report of Group of Interlocutors appointed by the Centre and urged the Centre to take effective and immediate measures for implementing the recommendations made by them.

(The headline was corrected for an error)