As the Centre insisted that proposals to amend the Armed Forces Special Powers Act are still on the discussion table, the senior-most military commander opposed any move to take the edge off the legislation if soldiers have to be effective in taking on terrorists.
But government sources said this view was exaggerated and the changes under consideration were aimed at bringing AFSPA — adapted from a colonial-era law — in tune with the concept of human rights understood in the 21st century.
IAF chief Air Chief Marshal P.V. Naik, also the Chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee, said on Tuesday the forces deserved all legal protection they could get to operate in Kashmir. “The government is sensitive to this problem. I’m sure whatever decision it takes will be the correct one,” he said.
The AFSPA gives the army powers to use force to the extent of causing death apart from searching premises and making arrests without warrants.
Lt Gen. Vijay Oberoi (retd), a former vice-chief, said the army can’t combat situations that have spun out of control without legal protection”.
Government sources said the plan was to take out the explicit reference to causing death and limiting the power of the forces to enter houses only in case they had information that explosives or terrorists were hiding. In case of other information — say a gun being hidden in a house — they would need a warrant from a magistrate.
It is not difficult to create systems in place where the warrants are issued without delay and secretly without affecting the effectiveness of the operation, a source said.
Government officials said the amendments did not mean that jawans would be prosecuted or harassed every time they open fire and kill militants.
“But what is the harm if they have to report the circumstances in which they had to kill a person… Just as other security officers do,” a senior official said.
Many in the army, however, feel diluting the Act would be no cure for the unrest. “The agitation there has nothing to do with the AFSPA. The army’s job is to build an environment conducive to peace but the ultimate solution lies in the political domain,” said an officer.