Modification in AFSPA should be looked at: Omar Abdullah

Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah on Monday suggested modification in controversial Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) that gives immunity to the armed forces operating in disturbed areas.

Srinagar: Seeking a way out of the impasse over the controversial Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah today suggested modification of the law that gives immunity to the armed forces operating in disturbed areas.

If revocation was not acceptable to the Centre, modification should be looked at, he said about AFSPA that was made applicable to the state 23 years ago and is a major political issue in the run up to the Assembly polls due by November 2014.
Omar, who has not succeeded in persuading the Centre to revoke AFSPA even from parts of the State that are relatively peaceful, said that incidents in the Valley had lent credence to arguments for and against its revocation.

"I am the first person to say what happened in Bemina (eight soldiers killed by militants) and what happened subsequently in Bandipore (army shot dead two youths) strengthen arguments for and against the revocation of AFSPA.
"Therefore it is important to find some common meeting ground between the two completely opposite points of view," Omar said in an interview to PTI here.
Asked whether he was suggesting a middle way for AFSPA, the Chief Minister said, "Well there have been those who have suggested modification to AFSPA, there have been those who have suggested softening of AFSPA.

"If you are unwilling to accept revocation, then look at modifications. That is a possibility," he said and cited the example of the state government which had made changes in Public Safety Act under which people can be detained without trial for upto two years.

"This is also an option I will continue to engage with the Government of India and the line I have taken in the past and let`s see what happens," he said.
When asked if he had a "wish list" ahead of the polls, Omar listed AFSPA as one of the issues on which he wants the Centre to take a decision. "Yes, I would like our discussions on AFSPA to be taken forward," he said.

"I understand the constraints that the Army is operating under. I understand that the incidents what we saw in Bemina do show us that the Army needs a legal cover to operate.

"I hope we can find a middle ground between the legal cover to operate and the sort of immunity that this Act gives which allows incidents like Bandipore to take place," he said, also listing earlier controversial incidents of alleged fake encounter at Machil in 2010.

"These are such incidents that we need to do away with. Legal cover for army to operate, I understand that is necessary and we will continue to maintain that. That`s something we want to take forward," Omar said.

The Chief Minister wants the army to follow the Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) in letter and spirit. "If they had followed the SOP in Bandipore, I am sure these things would not have happened."

He was critical of the army undertaking cordon and search operations without proper equipment. "What are you going to do with the night ambushes when you do not have night vision glasses? What do you see? How would you expect a soldier lay an ambush when he can`t see what he is doing?
"So anybody who rushes to him will be treated as a terrorist. So you are inviting trouble. If you want to lay a night ambush please provide your soldiers with night vision glasses so that they can see if someone is coming with a gun or a stick or nothing at all. So I can understand if you would have provided soldiers with night vision glasses, they would have been able to avoid the situation. You can`t shoot in the dark and they expect no collateral damage."

He said while an FIR had been filed in the case by the local police but the army had also initiated an inquiry but added quickly that the inquiries conducted by the army were "opaque" and no one knows about the outcome.

"The only problem is that the army`s own investigations are done in such an opaque manner that nobody really knows what conclusions have been arrived at. And I said the high profile incidents like in Machil are still to be resolved which means that people`s faith in inquiries is very less."