Those calling for the removal of Afspa from Jammu and Kashmir are missing key nuances

Some years back the oldest think-tank located in the National Capital took upon itself to run a capsule on strategy for Members of Parliament. The government in power was contacted and 40 vacancies were allotted to MPs from across political parties in power by the Centre. On the first day, 40 MPs attended. On the second day, attendance came down to 20. On the third day, only one MP turned up and after an hour said, “General sahib, jo aap bolte ho woh hamein to samajh nahin aata, is liye hum jaa rahe hain (General, I cannot understand what you are saying, so I am leaving).”

That was the end of it.

Another interesing episode was the 19-kilometre-deep intrusion by China’s PLA at Raki Nala in the Depsang plains of eastern Ladakh in May 2013, coinciding with Chinese premier Li Keqiang’s visit to India. The paralysis in the hierarchy was obvious with the then home minister Sushil Shinde blurting out, “We have no jurisdiction in the area.” The cake was taken by an MP, who was jokingly referred to as ‘the pole tortoise’ during a TV discussion on the intrusion. When a veteran general commented that the area of PLA intrusion being plain, we could simply go and sit behind the intruders or make a quid pro quo move, this venerable MP was visibly upset. His response was, “General sahib, aap toh ladaai karwa ke chhodoge (General, you will only settle for war).”

Apparently he foresaw a Chinese cyber attack followed by nuclear war. Such a creamy layer is the bane of India and why we are generally considered a ‘soft’ state.

The fact of the matter is that neither did the Army call for Afspa, nor did it draft this Act.

Consider the current volatility in the Kashmir Valley, the flurry of delegations, the blatant obduracy of Hurriyat separatists despite pockets bulging with funds from both sides of the LoC, the write ups, debates on national TV, and besides the calls for autonomy, the rooting for removal of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (Afspa) particularly by Jammu and Kashmir politicians and national Opposition MPs. Of course, intelligence pundits over the past several years simply dismissed Hurriyat separatists as “irrelevant”, giving them free rein to spill anti-India venom and radicalise the youth.

So, why lavish crores of exchequer money on them if they were irrelevant — or is it that snakes must be fed milk? Most significantly, even after the ethnic cleansing of Kashmiri Pundits (KPs), every government has remained mum. How many politicos visited the camps of KPs — rendered refugees in their own country — over the past decades? Has this atrocity even been covered in the national and international media? Can India let the world know what happened in Jammu and Kammu then and why? And why an inquiry shouldn’t be ordered for it even now, because the same political dynasties and cliques are present in Jammu and Kashmir? Some of whom are mighty vocal about the handling of the current situation. Of course, instituting such an inquiry will need guts, which observers like Tarek Fatah doubt, but then it just might be ordered if political pundits see some benefit in the forthcoming state elections next year and beyond.

One wonders if those calling for the removal of Afspa have ever gone into why, how and by whom Afspa was introduced. Sure, the Act provides extraordinary powers of force to soldiers deployed in disturbed areas — which has long been a bone of contention between human rights activists and those favouring adequate state response to terror and insurgency. Ironically, every time there are protests for the removal of Afspa, fingers are pointed at the Indian Army and it is asked why it needs Afspa. Army veterans are summoned for TV debates, there are calls to 'tone down' Afspa and the like. All this shows that the very background and basis of Afspa are not understood in the first place.

Representational image. Reuters

Representational image. Reuters

The fact of the matter is that neither did the Army call for Afspa, nor did it draft this Act.

Instead, this was discussed and debated by various Parliaments and passed to ensure that the army can function effectively in the designated disturbed area, when deployed. It must be noted that the deployment of army in the hinterland and the application of Afspa comes only ‘after’ said area is declared disturbed under the ‘Disturbed Area Act’. An area is declared ‘disturbed’ when the state machinery is unable to function and calls in the army for support. Therefore, any dilution of Afspa then would mean diluted effectiveness of the army in counter-insurgency or counter-terrorism, with personnel being consistently involved in litigation.

A Disturbed Area Act passed on 11 September, 1958 was applied to the seven North East states. A similar act passed in 1983 was applied to Punjab and Chandigarh, which was withdrawn in 1997. A similar act was applied to Jammu and Kashmir in 1990 and has been in force since. Neither does the army ask for deployment in the hinterland, nor does it enjoy being forced to act against its own Indian brethren when deployed in disturbed areas — its primary task being against the enemy and defending the borders.

As importantly in an insurgency environment, the army can only keep violence levels at manageable levels whereas the remainder must be taken on by the state administration; given that the problems are of a more politico-socio-economic nature. The failure of the state to provide adequate governance has been the bane of continuing insurgencies. This has been the major reason for the Kashmir Valley remaining volatile — aside from Pakistani support to terror, politico-terror links, lack of worthwhile de-radicalisation programmes and terror having become an industry by itself. The politico blame game will continue — Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti protested against pellet guns introduced during Omar Abdullah’s reign, today she thinks differently.

When in Opposition, Mehbooba protested vehemently for the removal of Afspa. Today she is the chief minister of the state. She is welcome to have the Jammu and Kashmir Disturbed Area Act of 1990 withdrawn. Should she do so, the army will automatically withdraw from the hinterland and there will be no need for Afspa. But you cannot continue with Disturbed Area Act and simultaneously remove or dilute Afspa, which would amount to tying the hands of the army behind its back. This implies that the state administration merrily continues to take refuge behind the army.

At the same time, to withdraw the Disturbed Area Act, The state administration has to first create the environment to facilitate the withdrawal of the Act. Simply removing the Disturbed Area Act without creating conditions for it would be disastrous. It's time those Opposition politicos and protesters hooting for the removal of Afspa simply to earn brownie points, make some effort to understand these nuances.

The author is a veteran Lieutenant-General of the Indian Army

Updated Date: Sep 09, 2016 11:25 AM

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