Omar Abdullah again caught between rock and hard place? (Kashmir Newsletter)
By Sheikh Qayoom, Srinagar, March 9 : When Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah broke down in the assembly and expressed his "helplessness" in punishing those responsible for a youth's killing in Baramulla, his political rivals said he was only proving his "acting skills".
Given his track record of over four years, the remark of the opposition People's Democratic Party (PDP) against Abdullah is being unkind to a chief minister who is passing through difficult times, observers here say.
"How can I face the people of the state? After all, I have to live among my people. Should I tell the people that we cannot act against those responsible for the youth's killing? Given the compulsions of the chair that I am holding, I cannot even walk out like the opposition to protest the youth's killing", Abdullah told the assembly in a nearly choked voice that indicated both anger and sadness.
He even said he was not mad in time and again reiterating his demand for a partial revocation of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) from areas where militant activities had been largely contained.
The controversial act gives blanket immunity to the army and the paramilitary forces deployed in disturbed areas to tackle militant strife. Interestingly, the state police deployed on the same duties is not covered by AFSPA.
A 24-year-old youth, Tahir Lateef Sofi, was killed in north Kashmir's Baramulla town in firing by the security forces on Tuesday.
Police has lodged an FIR against the security forces for the youth's killing, naming a colonel of a counter-insurgency unit among the accused.
The army has ordered a time-bound enquiry into the firing incident, although its spokesman has denied that the youth had been killed in firing by army personnel.
Major General V.G. Khandarey, the division commander stationed in Baramulla, has said any lapse that comes to fore during the course of the enquiry would be dealt with in the true traditions of the army.
He described the relationship between the army and the people of Baramulla as that between two brothers dating back to 1947 when the army entered the town to drive away the tribal invaders who had crossed over from the newly-created Pakistan.
Kashmir has been on the boil since the killing of the Baramulla youth, rekindling fears that the Valley might well be into the throes of another extended spell of violence and curfew clampdowns like in 2010.
In bloody clashes between unruly mobs and the security forces, 110 protesters were killed in 2010. Businesses, education and other normal activities had halted for the entire summer. Thus, it earned the sobriquet summer unrest.
What worries the chief minister and the ruling National Conference (NC) is the fact that general elections are due in Jammu and Kashmir next year. Politically, the Valley has been the fountainhead of power for the NC from where the party has been winning the majority of its seats since the times of its founder, the late Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah.
The demands for the repeal of AFSPA have been the loudest from the Valley. If Abdullah cannot deliver on even a partial revocation of the controversial act, the erosion that his rivals in the PDP have been making into NC strong bastions could rattle the party in 2014.
(Sheikh Qayoom can be contacted at email@example.com)