Will Army Come on Board?

The Civil-Military Liaison Conference at SKICC  has been an attempt to discuss the issues that have long bedevilled the relations between the successive state governments and the security establishment for some years now. The situation over the past 25 years has created an often uneasy relationship between the military and the civil administration, with the former brooking little interference in security matters.  The former Chief Minister Omar Abdullah learnt it hard way when Army stonewalled his determined bid for a phased withdrawal of AFSPA from the state during his term. Ironically, Omar wasn’t helped by his backing of the then union home minister P Chidamabaram who had even unsuccessfully sought to amend the law to reduce  its draconian nature. “I proposed repeal; the Ministry of Defence and the defence forces opposed repeal, and the defence minister was unwilling to overrule them,” Chidamabaram wrote in a recent piece in a leading national newspaper.

It is in this context that the Civil-Military Conference assumes significance. Chief Minister  Mufti Sayeed has sought to engage the army brass on many contentious issues. There has been an attempt to build confidence and assert some civilian control. For instance, CM has asked the Army to vacate Tatoo Ground in Srinagar “within three months or I will take up the matter with the Defence Ministry.”  Chief Minister said the government plans to build public facilities in the ground.

Similarly Mufti has refused to give more land to the Army in the state saying the government will undertake assessment of the actual allotment of land under the Army throughout J&K. Chief Minister has also curtly told Army to focus on the borders and that their role in internal security was almost over. He has refused to provide land at Bajpathri saying it is a sensitive issue, sought compensation for the land under Army’s occupation and declined to reduce the electricity fees.

The conference, however, hasn’t discussed anything of consequence on AFSPA. The issue of the law’s revocation has been hanging fire for many years now. And it doesn’t appear to be going anywhere in this government too. This so, even when BJP in its Common Minimum Programme with PDP has committed itself to the need for a relook at the Act. “The coalition government will examine the need for de-notifying ‘disturbed areas’. This, as a consequence, would enable the Union Government to take a final view on the continuation of AFSPA in these areas,” reads the Agenda of Alliance.  But ever since the coalition government has assumed office, BJP has returned to its hardline stance on the issue. The party has increasingly rejected the possibility of the revocation of AFSPA from the state or at least a phased withdrawal from the areas which have witnessed zero militancy in recent years.

Similarly, Army is unlikely to revise its position anytime soon and this is where the matter seems to end. The new General Officer Commanding of the Srinagar-based 15 Corps  Lt General Satish Dua in his first media interaction said the gains in normalizing Valley have been made by “putting in our blood and sweat” and that these can’t be frittered away by reducing the Army presence in the state. He said any such move will “help forces inimical to peace to take control of things and disrupt peaceful atmosphere in J&K again”.

Will Civil-Military conference lead to some mutual confidence and understanding on the contentious issues and pave way for a breakthrough in near future? The past record does little to shore up confidence on this score. But then we can hope against hope.


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