Jammu, Nov 9: Maintaining that the government has to have courage for "bold initiatives" on the issue of Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), Chief Minister Omar Abdullah Wednesday questioned the need for protection to the army in the areas where they have not worked for years together.
"Army did not work in Srinagar and Budgam last year. Similarly, we have places where army has not operated for years together from now. If they don't have work, what is the need of that protection? It is a straight question and requires a straight answer. It will be taken into consideration", Omar told reporters here.
"Our intention is to revoke AFSPA from those areas where Army has no work to do. I have never said to repeal AFSPA from Baramulla, Sopore and Kupwara but where army had done no work for years together, there should not be any hesitation to withdraw it from these places," he asserted.
Omar was answering media queries relating to ongoing debate over removal of AFSPA and army's demand for legal protection during counter-insurgency operations after taking the guard of honour on the reopening of Durbar Move offices in the winter capital of the state.
"If we say, we will wait for last gun to fall silent in Kashmir for revocation of AFSPA from the state, time will never come. We have to have courage for bold initiatives which would be little difficult in the beginning but will yield good results," Omar remarked.
He also recalled the removal of 40 bunkers from Srinagar last year and said, "There were same voices which had said that it would turn Srinagar into a breading ground for militants, but the reality was altogether different. I would like to talk on this issue and take it forward."
Asked about objections raised by the Ministry of Defence on the AFSPA issue and the way to bring them on board, he said, "Obviously, there will be an element of consultation which will continue. There is a meeting of the Unified Headquarters later this afternoon in which I and the Deputy Chief Minister (Tara Chand) will take part. Subsequently, in future, though yet to be decided – but not too far away, this matter will come up for discussion in the Cabinet meeting as well".
Omar disclosed that he had brief discussion with the Union Home Minister over telephone on Tuesday evening over the issue.
"So far as I am concerned, necessary process is going on. Beyond that I am not going to pre-judge what would be the conclusion," he said.
He also clarified that he never made an announcement regarding "final decision" on revocation of AFSPA saying, "I did not make any announcement at a public meeting. I made announcement regarding our intension at police commemoration day function at police ground Srinagar where police high command, central paramilitary forces and Army high command was present. It was not public meeting."
About the delay in appointment of a judicial commission on alleged political payoffs and death of National Conference worker Haji Syed Muhammad Yousuf, Omar said, "I had talked to the Union Law Minister Salman Khurshid few days back. And they (Law ministry) are in process of finalizing the name of retired Supreme Court judge. We will go ahead with the judicial commission of inquiry."
"I have always said that we have asked for a commission of inquiry by a sitting judge and there is nothing wrong in it. It is our right to ask for it. Now it is also the right of the Chief Justice to accept or reject our request. The fact is that he didn't find circumstances which necessitated for an inquiry through a sitting judge. I am committed for judicial inquiry rather asked for nominating a retired High Court judge, then you would have accused me of nominating judge of my convenience. We have asked the Law ministry, Government of India, to give us retired judge of Supreme Court," he maintained.
Responding to a question which put the Chief Minister in an awkward position, Omar said that he didn't think anybody was too mature. "I hope to be mature more………. Nobody can be too mature. The government is always collective and my team that I have honour to work with, I believe our single biggest contribution is the conduct of Panchayat elections last year. No government has done more to empower people of the state in the recent history than this coalition has done", he said.
INDIA AS MFN
About Pakistan granting India Most Favoured Nation (MFN) status, Omar said, "India had been looking for it (MFN) since long. Pakistan has its own compulsions and I think Pakistan will be benefited more than India because our imports will be more than exports. I fail to understand why Pakistan was opposing it other than political compulsions."
CONDOLENCE TO GEELANI
Asked about the press statement issued by J&K Police offering condolences to veteran Hurriyat Conference leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani, the Chief Minister said it was a great thing.
"It is very much part of our humanity that we express sympathies with someone who has lost his loved one. Just Syed Ali Shah Geelani is a pro-Pakistan separatist does not mean his grief of loss of his brother is lesser than anybody else….You don't agree with someone's politics but it doesn't mean we should not condole and extend sympathies to someone who lost his loved one."
He added, "Syed Ali Shah Geelani, whatever his politics are, he is also an ex-MLA and he was the part of mainstream politics for longer than the period he is in separatist politics. They use to express condolences when we lose our loved ones and nothing wrong in it."
CM CHAIRS COUNCIL OF MINISTERS MEET
Meanwhile, Chief Minister chaired a meeting of Council of Ministers here on the first day of the opening of the move offices at the winter capital. He reviewed sector-wise progress and took brief on various flagship programmes.
While appreciating the endeavours of Ministers and their contribution in effective and successful implementation of the development agenda of coalition government, the Chief Minister underlined the need for maintaining the pace of progress on development works. He said holistic development of Jammu and Kashmir and justice to all is a stupendous task fixed by the coalition government to achieve during its tenure. "We have to redouble our efforts and sensitize administration at all levels to achieve this goal", he said.
Earlier, the Chief Minister on his arrival in the Civil Secretariat was given guard of honour by the J&K Police Contingent. The Ministers, Administrative Secretaries, officers and employees warmly received the Chief Minister who went round various departments in the Secretariat and enquired the welfare of employees besides taking stock of the functioning.
The Chief Minister inaugurated the newly constructed pre-fabricated 4th floor of the Mini Secretariat and the corridor linking it with the main secretariat building.