It’s draconian, it’s dangerous and it’s unpopular. The Armed Forces Special Powers Act vests with the security forces unrestricted and unaccounted power. It gives the forces overwhelming powers to shoot, arrest and search. Even a junior officer is allowed to kill on the basis of mere suspicion in the area declared disturbed. There are indications that the Act has been grossly misused in the areas of its operation — the North-East and Jammu and Kashmir.
For nearly 11 years Irom Sharmila of Manipur has been hunger protest demanding the withdrawal of the Act. The frail woman with a pipe dangling from her nose has been the symbol under which all civil society members opposed to the Act have rallied around.
“AFSPA is a symbol of vulgar and brutal violence in India and it needs to be repealed,’’ said prominent civil society activist and member of Team Anna, Medha Patkar. She recently kicked off a 10-day yatra from Srinagar demanding that the legislation be repealed. J&K Chief Minister Omar Abdullah has courted controversy by announcing that the Act as well as the Disturbed Areas Act would be rolled back from some areas of J&K.
The opposition to the repeal of AFSPA has been equally vociferous. The Army is against it, as is the general popular opinion in India. The Congress and the BJP, the major political parties, are opposed to it too. Omar’s statement has has virtually put the state government at loggerheads with the Ministry of Defence.
Given the sensitive political situation in the areas the Act is in force, it’s not an easy call to make. It is evoked only in exceptional conditions. And with so many forces at work against the country in these areas, not many would argue that the situation is exceptional.
So should AFSPA be withdrawn? The debate has got shriller across the spectrum and there’s no clear solution in sight.
Now the militants have provided the answer. They carried out four attacks targeting security personnel in the Kashmir Valle today, injuring three CRPF jawans and a policeman. They lobbed two grenades on security installations in central Srinagar and made an aborted attempt to target a police team in Shopian district. They also attacked policemen in Anantnag district.
The attacks fly in the face of Omar’s assertion that there’s gradual improvement in the security situation. It also lends credence to the Army’s contention that the conditions in the valley were not right for lifting AFSPA since there were no indication yet that there has been a let-up in infiltration bids from across the border. It has been citing that the challenge of militancy was not over and there was intelligence input about militants waiting to move across the Line of Control.
The civil society activists, of course, would never take note — steeped in bizarre notions of public good, they rarely take into consideration the ground realities. It is believed that the J&K interlocutors have recommended the Centre to withdraw the Act from the state and strive for a permanent political settlement in the state. They, according to media sources, have cited human rights violation resulting from the extraordinary powers given to the security forces.
The entire spectrum of objections to the Act has been about human rights violation. There’s no denying that such freedom creates enough scope for violation of civilian rights. But can the security forces operate in such dangerous terrains if they keep bothering about rights issues?
The Army has been protesting any suggestion of dilution of the Act, saying they would be unable to function in counter-insurgency roles without legal immunity. Its brass has been insisting that even partial revocation of the Act would greatly curtail the freedom of the forces to carry out operations. Security personnel deserve all the legal protection for the result of any action he takes on the spot.
Is a soldier supposed to be worried about legal issues when he is in a life and death situation? Does the situation even allow him that luxury? Security forces are required in those areas in the first place because the conditions are exceptional, beyond the control of local law and order authorities.
The civil society does not have to face these challenges. Yes, the atrocities unleashed by the forces — deliberately or otherwise — is reprehensible. But defanging the Army is not the solution.
Omar should take note.
Updated Date: Oct 25, 2011 20:54 PM