AFSPA to figure during Antony’s visit

NEW DELHI/SRINAGAR, July 26:
The fate of the controversial Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) that gives sweeping powers to the armed forces will be discussed when Defence Minister A K Antony visits the Kashmir valley from Saturday to review the security situation there.
Accompanied by Army chief General Bikram Singh and Defence Secretary Shashikant Sharma, the Defence Minister will undertake the two day-long tour of some of the forward areas in the State and will hold interactions with Chief Minister Omar Abdullah and Governor N N Vohra.
“Occasionally I used to go there. My purpose is to review the present security scenario there. As summer has started, I must know the ground realities,” Antony told reporters here today.
He was replying to a question on the purpose of his tour to the Valley- first ever in the last 18 months – during which he will also head the meeting of Unified Headquarters (UHQ) in Srinagar.
“I will also have detailed discussions with Chief Minister Omar Abdullah and our armed forces. Defence Secretary, Army Chief and other officials will be there and we will have a detailed discussion over the security scenario,” Antony said.
Meanwhile, sources in the Ministry said that AFSPA will be discussed during the meeting of Defence Minister and State officials.
Earlier during the day, on the sidelines of wreath laying ceremony at Amar Jawan Jyoti on the occasion of Kargil Vijay Diwas, Antony had refused to comment whether AFSPA will be discussed during his meeting with Abdullah and other State officials.
“I don’t want to say anything in public on this issue,” he had said.
On Saturday, Antony will begin his tour from Army’s Udhampur-based Northern Command Headquarters, where he will be briefed over the overall security scenario in the State.
“From Udhampur, the Defence Minister will go to Srinagar and then he will visit some of the forward areas along the Line of Control (LoC),” Defence Ministry officials said.
In the afternoon, Antony will meet Abdullah and other senior State officials followed by a meeting with Governor N N Vohra.
On Sunday again the Minister will visit few more forward posts early in the morning before coming back to the Capital in the afternoon, they added.
Northern Army Commander Lt General K T Parnaik will also brief the Minister over the ongoing security scenario in the State.
Against protests in Kashmir over the killing of a youth, Antony today ordered a speedy inquiry into the incident overruling the Army and directed that strong action be taken against anybody found guilty.
“I have told the Army to complete the inquiry at the earliest and if anybody is found guilty we will take strong action,” he told reporters in Delhi. Earlier the Ministry spokesman issued a statement saying the same.
Hilal Ahmad Dar was killed allegedly in Army firing on Tuesday night in Bandipora in north Kashmir, triggering protests by locals who claimed that he was an innocent local youth and not a militant.
Prior to the Defence Minister’s directive, Army ruled out the need for any probe, maintaining that the deceased was a militant and weapons were recovered alongside him after being killed in retaliatory fire.
“For us there is nothing to prove … It is clear. Army is a disciplined force and carries out operations with honesty and integrity,” General Officer Commanding of the Army’s 15 Corps Lt General Om Prakash told reporters on the sidelines of a function in Srinagar earlier in the day.
He said the operation in which the youth was killed in Bandipora district on Tuesday night was based on intelligence inputs about movement of militants for the past three days through the area.
“During this operation, movement was observed late in the night. When they were challenged, they opened firing first, which was retaliated. One person was killed and weapons were also recovered from the spot,” Lt Gen Prakash said.
Local residents have alleged that Dar was killed in custody.
Meanwhile,  amid demands by the armed forces for a War Memorial in the national capital, A K Antony today said things were progressing in a “comfortable” manner on the issue.
However, he refused to give any deadline on it.
“I can tell you that things are now progressing very well. Things are progressing very well,” he told reporters on sidelines of a function to pay homage to the martyrs of defence forces on the occasion of Kargil Vijay Diwas.
Hailing the sacrifice made by jawans and officers of the armed forces, the Defence Minister said, “Not only for the forces, it is a historic day for the country as a whole. Today we are paying homage to the sacrifice made by our jawans and officers to protect the honour of the country.”
Asked when a final decision will be taken on the war memorial, he said, “Don’t ask any time limit but things are progressing in a comfortable manner very well.”
The three services have been raising the demand for their own War Memorial in the capital to honour their men who made the sacrifice in various wars, conflicts and militancy in Jammu and Kashmir and the North East.
Interacting with reporters after the function, the Defence Minister said he will undertake a two-day visit to Jammu and Kashmir beginning tomorrow and tour several forward areas there.
“Mainly my purpose is to go to forward areas to meet our jawans and officers and see the situation in the forward areas,” he said, adding that he will be meeting the State Chief Minister Omar Abdullah as well.
The Defence Minister will be accompanied by the Army Chief and Defence Secretary Shashikant Sharma. He will also head a meeting of Unified Headquarters in Srinagar.
On the issue of Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) in the State, Antony refused to make any comment.
“I don’t want to say anything in public on this issue,” he said when asked whether it will be discussed during his meeting with Abdullah and senior State officials. (PTI)