All-party delegation to visit J&K, PM asks Omar govt to restore law & order

New Delhi: The marathon meeting chaired by the Prime Minister on Kashmir ended, as expected, without any consensus on the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA). Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah had been campaigning for withdrawing AFSPA from parts of his state. That's not going to happen for now.

What has been decided at that meeting attended by leaders of all major political parties is that an all-party delegation will visit J&K soon. (Read: Full text of All-party statement)

Omar's father, National Conference President Farooq Abdullah, said after the meeting, "We are not disappointed."

That may help to soften the blow dealt earlier this week by the union government which said in an official statement that it acknowledged a "governance-deficit" in J&K. Sources close to Omar said that while he was disappointed with that snub, he would not make a decision on whether to resign till after the PM's meeting today.

Addressing the meeting, the PM said that dialogue is the only route to lasting peace in the region.  But he also stressed "Meaningful dialogue can happen only in an atmosphere free from violence and confrontation.  Discussions can take place only if we have calm and public order.  The Central and State Governments have already appealed to the people of Jammu and Kashmir, especially the youth, to eschew violence. I reiterate that appeal.  We are ready for dialogue with anybody or any group that does not espouse or practice violence."  (Read: PM's opening remarks at the all-party meeting on Kashmir)

More than 70 civilians have been killed in the last three months in Kashmir. Clashes between stone-pelters and security forces have become a near-daily feature in the streets. "I was shocked and distressed to see young men and women- even children- joining the protests on the streets. While some of these protests may have been impulsive or spontaneous, it cannot be denied that some incidents were orchestrated by certain groups," said Dr Manmohan Singh.

Congress president Sonia Gandhi also emphasized that the youth must be given special consideration. "We must ask ourselves why is there so much anger. Why is there so much pain, in particular amongst the youth...we must give them hope, we must understand and respect their legitimate aspirations."

Much of the discussion in the meeting focused on the controversial Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA). Opinion on the Act is divided not just between parties, but within the government as well. 

The Act is criticized for giving the Army sweeping powers - it can conduct searches and arrests without warrants, for example. Defence Minister AK Antony has been presenting the Armed Forces' point-of-view - that the Act gives its men critical legal immunity in a state where it is fighting a "proxy war." (Read: Forces must get legal protection: Air Chief)

While the BJP endorsed talks with major stakeholders in Kashmir, it stuck to its guns on AFSPA, opposing any dilution of the Act. "We are clear that our stand on AFSPA is in national interest, we can't comment on stands of other political parties, "said the party's general secretary, Ravi Shankar Prasad. (Read: We oppose autonomy for J&K, says BJP)

The Congress, which is divided on the issue, had to be more nuanced. Sonia Gandhi said the government "understands the extreme pressures and dangerous circumstances our police and security forces face in protecting our sovereignty and territorial integrity."

As the all-party meeting in Delhi discussed the way forward for Jammu and Kashmir, there have been violent protests in Jammu. Three people were killed and 15 others injured. Following the deaths, the J&K government has suspended the Deputy Superintendent of Police of Mendhar, and ordered an FIR against him and his team. (Read: Three killed, seven injured in protests in J&K)

According to reports, the clashes took place when a protest to show solidarity with the Valley and to protest against last week's plans of a Florida pastor's to burn copies of the Quran (the pastor did not carry out that threat). The police reportedly fired on the Jammu protesters. It appears that for the first time, the Valley protests are spilling over to mark the Jammu region. (Read: Govt snubs Omar with "governance-deficit" remark)

Army and police in Jammu and Kashmir have decided to jointly counter the separatists, especially in the wake of the separatist call to protest outside army camps on September 21.

NDTV has learnt from top security sources in Jammu and Kashmir that the government wants to deal with the separatists' strategy firmly. The counter-strategy will be led by the Army and is aimed at thwarting the new calendar announced by hardline Hurriyat leader, Syed Ali Shah Geelani.

Sources have told NDTV that this decision was taken at a special core group meeting in Srinagar today. This decision is based on clear-cut directions and understanding in New Delhi that the writ of the state needs to be established firmly. 
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