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Controversies Over AFSA:THREAD WITH CAUTION, by Col. (Dr.) P. K. Vasudeva (Retd), 20 Sept, 2010 Print E-mail

Defence Notes

New Delhi, 20 September 2010

Controversies Over AFSA


By 10:29AM


The Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) and the all-Party meeting held on 15 September in New Delhi was unable to take a decision on diluting the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA) in Jammu and Kashmir due to lack of consensus. Which continues to elude the Centre.


The Defence Ministry, Armed Forces and the BJP were opposed to any move for diluting the AFSPA as it could hamper the morale and operational capability of the Forces. And wanted the UPA Government to integrate J&K with India rather than play into the hands of Pakistan-sponsored separatists.


Further, BJP’s senior leader Advani accused the Centre of “bending over backwards” to placate the secessionists in the Valley. “There is continuing talk of diluting the AFSPA and withdrawal of the forces. This is nothing but surrender before Islamabad's strategy of breaking India's post-1947 unity,” said he.

“This is what the military rulers of Pakistan have been dreaming of ever since their defeat in Bangladesh's War of Liberation in 1971. It is a shameful irony that if one Congress Prime Minister was responsible for India's historic victory in that war, another Congress-led Government  is working towards India's surrender to Pakistan's proxy war in Kashmir,” Advani added. He underscored what Nehru had told Parliament decades ago, “Article 370 is a purely temporary provision,” but the UPA Government was “bending over backwards to placate the secessionists.”


Significantly, the demand that the Act be withdrawn has been rising from Kashmir to the North East. The 1958 AFSPA Act is in force in parts of Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland and Tripura. The Act was extended to Jammu and Kashmir in 1990 and is currently enforce in 12 districts including Srinagar, Budgam and Gandherbal. The ruling National Conference wants it lifted to bring normalcy in the State.


Many in South Block warn that a partial withdrawal could tie the hands of the Forces dealing with infiltration in J-K and trigger similar demands from the North East. A possible way out could be to amend the Disturbed Areas Act that provides legal cover to paramilitary and state police personnel engaged in anti-insurgency operations. Even as the future of the Act is being debated, the Army's reservations have been in the public domain.


As per the report submitted to the Central Government as early as June 2005 by the Committee headed by Justice Jeevan Reddy, the Act had become “a symbol of oppression, an object of hate and an instrument of discrimination and highhandedness”.


Holding that “the Act is too sketchy, too bald and quite inadequate in several particulars”, the Committee was of “the firm view” that it should be repealed. It recommended the addition of a new chapter in the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act to deal with disturbed conditions in a State, removing the harsh features of the AFSPA”.


Speaking in Imphal on 2 December 2006, 18 months after the Committee handed its report, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh promised to make AFSPA “humane, giving due regard to the protection of basic human rights” to which end, he averred, the Home Ministry was working on the amendments to the Act by way of “modifying the existing provisions or inserting new ones”'


Needless to say, the Prime Minister and the Home Ministry owe an explanation to the people of this country why they indulge in soft talk without consulting with other national Parties especially when the country’s integrity and sovereignty is involved. By their dilatoriness, they have directly contributed to the raging conflagration of horrendous proportions in the Kashmir Valley, leading to the loss of a number of lives, including those of young boys and girls. 


The Jeevan Reddy Committee gave an honourable exit. By December 2005, within six months of the submission of its report, the Government could have examined the various implications and come up with built-in provisions for safeguarding human rights. It would have, thereby created an enormous fund of goodwill.


Instead, by painting itself into a corner and seeming to succumb to violence, the Government is only laying itself open to the charge of being stone-deaf to people's sentiments unless they resort to near rebellion and force its hands. It also becomes answerable to all the tragic happenings of the last six years, with their terrible human cost.


In view of the gravest threat to security, the provisions of the AFSPA are not at all draconian. All that is necessary for a part of the State to be handed over to the Armed Forces is for the Governor or the Central Government to notify these areas as in a “disturbed and dangerous” condition.


Thereafter, the Armed Forces are free, on the suspicion of violation of the law or commission of an offence, to fire upon or otherwise use force, against terrorists. They can also without any warrant, arrest any person and enter and search any premises. No prosecution of anyone indulging in excesses purporting to acts under AFSPA is possible except with the previous sanction of the Government.  This is one of the reasons that the defence Forces are effective in curbing secessionist activities both in the North East and J&K.


Clearly, the outcome of the CCS and all-Party meeting suggest that the Prime Minister and the Defence Minister cannot muster the will to overrule the strong insistence by the Armed Forces on the retention of this statutory shield which it regards vital for its effectiveness. But they should not be blind to the writing on the wall: The status quo cannot continue and the issue has to be clinched.


If the Government shows softness by withdrawing AFSPA in J&K the separatists and Pakistan sponsored ‘proxy war’ secessionists will celebrate a big victory in the battle they have been waging against the nation with the help of India’s foes. Thus the ‘peace’ this abject surrender might bring would be a prelude to another offensive for Azadi which might be timed to coincide with US President Barack Obama's November visit. This risk the country cannot take at this stage. ____ INFA


(Copyright, India News and Feature Alliance)

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