Defence Minister Rajnath Singh
Defence Minister Rajnath Singh

JAMMU — Union Defence Minister Rajnath Singh on Monday said that Armed Forces Special Power Act (AFSPA) will be removed from Jammu and Kashmir when “peace becomes a permanent feature” and the democratic process would soon be initiated in the Union Territory. He, however, did not give any specific timeline for both the developments.

As per the news agency KNO, the Union Minister said that AFSPA has been removed from large parts of the northeast and he was waiting for ‘permanent peace’ in Jammu and Kashmir so it could be removed from the UT too.

The Union Defence Minister said this while addressing a ‘Security Conclave’ organized by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) at the University of Jammu under its ‘Maha Jansampark Abhiyan’ on the completion of nine years in the office. The Security Conclave brings light to the achievement of the government on internal and external dimensions of the country’s defence mechanism, with a particular focus on Jammu and Kashmir.

“Today, AFSPA has been removed from large parts of the Northeast. I am waiting for the day when permanent peace will come in Jammu and Kashmir and AFSPA will be removed from here too,” Singh said.

The AFSPA was implemented in J&K in 1990 due to insurgency and it remains among the most militarised regions of the world. The Act empowers the security forces to detain persons and use force, even lethal force, with immunity from prosecution. The actions taken under AFSPA, even the use of lethal force, are immune from prosecution and prosecution can only happen after sanction from the Union government.

In recent years, the AFSPA has been reduced in several areas in Northeast India. Earlier this year, the AFSPA was removed from several areas in Manipur, Nagaland, and Assam.

The senior BJP leader also asserted that a democratic process would soon be initiated in Jammu and Kashmir.

“With the abrogation of Article 370 (of the Constitution), our aim is to restore normalcy in Jammu and Kashmir as swiftly as possible. We are committed to commencing the democratic process in the region at the earliest, thus fulfilling the long-standing aspirations of its people,” Singh said in response to a query on when the assembly polls will be held in the Union Territory.

The senior leader also said the government cannot provide a specific time frame for the withdrawal of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) from the region or the assembly polls.

Moreover, in a 50-minute long address, the Defence Minister touched on all the aspects of internal and external security, international diplomacy, and military reforms but avoided politics.

Starting the address with his commitment, the Defence Minister asserted that in his long political career, he never did political speeches on the premises of educational institutions. “I feel that universities and educational institutions can’t be used as political platforms. In my entire political journey, I never gave a political speech in any educational institution, so today’s talk remains confined to the achievement of our government only,” the Defence Minister said.

The Defense Minister said that Jammu and Kashmir has suffered the brunt of terrorism for a long time and people here know how the poison of terrorism hollows out the society.

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Noting that the entire network of terrorism was operating in Jammu and Kashmir for decades, he said, “Today strict action has been taken against that network by weakening it to a great extent. We have stopped the funding of terrorism, stopped the supply of arms and drugs and along with the elimination of terrorists, the work of dismantling the network of underground workers who work here is also going on.”

Referring to the abrogation of Article 370 in August 2019, Singh said while the common people of Jammu and Kashmir were kept away from the mainstream for a long time, they also became a “hindrance” in taking action against anti-national forces.

Without naming Pakistan, he said countries using terrorism as a state policy have to understand very well that this game will not last long.

“Today, most of the big countries of the world are united against terrorism,” he said, adding the joint statement issued recently by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and US President Joe Biden clearly shows how today’s India has changed the mindset of the whole world, including America, on the issue of terrorism.

“It has been clearly stated in this joint statement that there should be concerted action against the UN-listed terrorist organisations, which include Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jaish-e-Mohammed and Hizbul Mujahideen,” he said.

“It has also been said in this joint statement that Pakistan should put a stop to every terrorist act taking place in its territory and should not allow its land to be used for this,” he said, adding Pakistan was also asked to take action against those behind the 26/11 Mumbai and Pathankot attacks.

Defence Minister Rajnath Singh has said that Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) is, was and will always remain a part of India and nothing will be achieved by the Pakistan government by repeatedly claiming PoK. Rajnath Singh stressed that by illegally occupying the PoK, Pakistan cannot make it a locus standi.

“A unanimous resolution has been passed in the Parliament of India regarding PoK that it is a part of India only. Not one but at least three proposals of this intention have now been passed in the Parliament,” Singh said.

He said that a large part of Jammu and Kashmir is under the occupation of Pakistan. “People on that side are seeing that people in J-K are living their lives peacefully. On the other hand, people living in PoK are going through a lot of suffering and they will raise the demand to go with India,” Singh said.

The Raksha Mantri termed the border situation with China as a matter of perceptual difference, but there are agreements & protocols, based on which the armies of both countries carry out the patrolling.

Referring to the stand-off in East Ladakh in 2020, he said, the Chinese Army ignored the agreed protocols and unilaterally tried to change the status quo on the LAC. He lauded the valour and dedication of the Indian Army which prevented the attempts by the PLA to change the status quo.

He reiterated the government’s stand to resolve the border issue through dialogue and in a peaceful manner. He added that the talks are continuing at military and diplomatic levels to resolve the dispute. He assured the nation that the government will never compromise on India’s border, its honour and self-respect. “We will never let the sanctity of our borders be violated,” he added.

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The Raksha Mantri touched upon the measures taken by the government to bolster national security, including strengthening border infrastructure and achieving ‘Aatmanirbharta’ in Defence.

He listed out a number of steps taken to attain self-reliance, namely notification of positive indigenisation lists and earmarking 75% of the defence capital procurement budget for the domestic industry in the Financial Year 2023-24. “India does not want to depend on imported weapons. Our national security will only strengthen when we become self-reliant in defence manufacturing. Our aim is to ‘Make in India, Make for the world’.”

“Our efforts are bearing fruit. Today, we are manufacturing tanks, aircraft carriers, submarines and various kinds of weapons. Defence exports have crossed Rs 16,000 crore from a meagre Rs 900 crore before 2014. The exports will soon touch the Rs 20,000 crore mark,” he said.

Rajnath Singh also enumerated the structural reforms undertaken by the government, including the appointment of the Chief of Defence Staff and the setting up of the Department of Military Affairs. He added that the government continues to move forward and work is being done to set up theatre commands, which will be another revolutionary reform.

The Defence Minister also shed light on the transformed image of India on the global stage under the dynamic leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. He stated that today the world keenly listens to India on international forums due to the Prime Minister’s credibility on the global stage.

Rajnath Singh underlined the importance of coordination with major world powers, such as the US & Russia, to protect India’s security interests in this globalised world. He stated that India and US are being seen as natural allies and their strategic partnership is being further cemented.

He added that India-US Defence Cooperation has grown rapidly with the expansion of military-to-military engagements, information sharing and cooperation in the fields of artificial intelligence, cyber, space and mutual logistics support. He termed the Prime Minister’s recent visit to the US as a landmark event, which ushered in bilateral defence cooperation in a new era.

Rajnath Singh called for an integrated and united response to deal with global threats & challenges. “India is a major regional power. Therefore, it is important for us to align our security concerns with other countries in our extended neighbourhood,” he said.

Singh mentioned the General Electric (GE) Aerospace-Hindustan Aeronautics Limited deal to co-produce F-414 fighter jet engines in India. “With this deal, we will become the fourth country to manufacture jet engines. Tejas aircraft will be fitted with these Made in India engines,” he said.

Rejecting speculative reports on the price and other terms of purchase of MQ-9B drones from the US, Raksha Mantri stated that the Ministry of Defence will compare the acquisition cost of the drones with the best price General Atomics (GA) offered to other countries. He added that the acquisition will be made only by following the established procurement procedure.

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