Omar questions the need to protect Army

Jammu: Holding that the government has to have courage to take a decision on the issue of Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah today questioned the need for "protection" to the army in areas where they have not operated for years.

"Our endeavour is to remove AFSPA from those areas where there is no need of army to work. I have never said that we should remove AFSPA from Baramulla, Sopore and Kupwara areas", Omar told a press conference here.

He was replying to questions on issues relating to removal of AFSPA, army`s demand for legal protection and delay in appointment of a judicial commission on alleged political payoffs as the secretariat and other offices started working from Jammu, the state`s winter capital.

"Where the army has not worked for years, what is the problem in removing (AFSPA) from those areas? When did they (army) work in Srinagar the last time? When did they last time work in Budgam", Omar asked.

On the army`s demand for legal protection while operating in insurgency-affected areas in J&K, the Chief Minister said, "There are places where Army did not work for years. What is the need for protection when they have not worked in those areas ?

"It is a straight question and (requires) a straight answer (from the army). It will be taken into consideration", he said, adding, "If we say we will wait for last gun to fall silent, then the time will never come to remove these things (AFSPA or Disturbed Areas Act).

"We have to have courage and take a decision. In beginning, there would be difficulty but ultimate results would be good", he said.

The Chief Minister said, "When we removed 40 security bunkers in Srinagar city, there were the same (army) voices which had said that it (the Valley) would be hub of militants and there would be attacks.

"But the reality was totally different. I would like to talk on this issue and take it forward," Omar said. On whether it is the right time to remove the operation of AFSPA from some areas, he said, "Is it the right time or not? Militant activities for past several years are decreasing. If we wait for last gun to fall silent, that time will never come".

Asked about objections raised by the Ministry of Defence on the AFSPA issue and the way to bring them on board, he said, "There would be an element of consultation which would 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 on a future date, yet not decided– but not too far away, this matter would come up for discusion at a Cabinet meeting as well", he said, adding, "I had a brief discussion with Union Home Minister P Chindambaram over telephone over the issue yesterday evening."

He said, "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".

Omar said, "I did not make any announcement (on AFSPA) at a public meeting. I made an announcement in this regard on the intent at Police Commemoration Day at Zewan where the police high command, heads of para-military forces and the army high command were present".