AFSPA has become part of the national lexicon in such a way that it doesn’t need to be spelt out in its full form — Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act. What needs to be discussed is why the Act deserves to be revoked in some parts of Jammu and Kashmir as chief minister Omar Abdullah has been demanding.
Rewind to the 1990s — the violent decade — during which the young CM would have spent little time in the Valley. Every single day of that decade brought news of death and destruction. Kashmiris ventured out of the relative safety of their homes only after they’d scribbled their address on a piece of paper and put it in their pockets. Death was always one step away and the slips helped identify the dead. Then the local police was suspect and the Centre had to send in the army. While the slogan for azadi had gripped the Valley, the intelligence agencies posts outside Srinagar had been vacated.
Then, Sopore, the apple town, 60 km north of Srinagar, was referred to as a ‘liberated zone’ and food for paramilitary posts was transported in bulletproof vehicles. The years following 2000 had violence inscribed all over them, though towards the end of that decade, the Valley saw what many referred to as ‘surface normalcy.’
If you’re not convinced by anecdotal evidence, let’s look at some statistics to support the revoke-the-draconian law argument.
Abdullah, who is not asking for a complete revocation, has the support of home minister P Chidambaram and has proposed that AFSPA be withdrawn from places like Srinagar, Budgam, Jammu and Samba. Budgam saw only two violent incidents in 2006-07 and none after that. In Srinagar, the militancy-related graph has dipped by 70% and the army has not been part of counter-insurgency operations for several years.
At present, Kashmir is crowded with tourists and reports indicate that it has become difficult to stand by the now picturesque, but once placid Dal Lake. The nay-sayers, and there are many, will argue that tourists had reached Srinagar in record numbers and emptied out as quickly when the Kargil War began in 1999 or the year before the Valley’s hottest summer when stone-pelters stayed on the streets despite over a 100 deaths. But then that’s the point — how many even imagined that the Valley, so inured to violence, would erupt in collective rage and vent it through chucking stones?
The signals are clear, for those wanting to read them, as the interlocutors have. Among the many recommendations in their report to the home minister, the removal of AFSPA is one. The revocation, will in fact, go to the heart of every civilian Kashmiri and it will serve to remind them, that only for the second time in over two decades, Delhi has thought of them as people and not mere occupants of what bureaucrats and politicians have often referred to as “an integral part of India,” as if it were just a prized piece of real estate.
The only time when a confidence building measure has stood the test of being just that — a confidence building measure — was when Delhi and Islamabad agreed on a bus between Srinagar and Muzaffarabad. The first one left, in April 2005, amid cheer and a huge attack on the tourist reception centre in Srinagar. But it was the cheer that stood out. For the first time since the insurgency took root in the late 1980s, Kashmiris had burst crackers and celebrated and the real reason they did that was because it was the first time any government had crafted a policy, keeping them in mind as the principal stakeholders.
Currently, the same stakeholder has become a pawn in a fight, an ego battle of sorts between the occupants of North Block and South Block; the ministry of defence and its service chiefs strongly opposing the revocation of a law that is no longer needed. Its revocation will provide a balm so effective that it will surprise the very people who are its loudest opponents. The May 30 attack that injured seven CRPF men should not be allowed to derail the debate for remember, it is only a blip in a state that has survived the 1990s. The Centre owes it to the people of Jammu and Kashmir, to convince its military that it is time to make way for governance.