With the controversial Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) emerging as a major poll plank, chief minister Omar Abdullah has again taken the army head on and questioned the impunity enjoyed by soldiers in the state.
"Before the Bandipora incident, those who were calling for the revocation of the AFSPA were little subdued. But what happened in Bandipora and various statements emerging from the army about what had actually happened... I think it has brought into the focus the need for reviewing the AFSPA," Abdullah said in an interview to a local daily on Saturday.
This is for first time since the two youth were killed on Sunday during an army operation in north-eastern district of Bandipora, 40 km from Srinagar, that the chief minister has expressed his views over the AFSPA revocation.
His statement also comes in the backdrop of an attack on the army on June 24 in Srinagar. The attack, in which eight soldiers were killed, did corner those who demanded the withdrawal of the act.
"I understand that the army needs a legal cover to operate. I don't argue with that. My point is that why does legal cover has to extend to impunity. That is what is happening," said Abdullah.
The chief minister, in 2011, made a sudden announcement of withdrawing the AFSPA from "peaceful areas" of the state. The army's open opposition, however, dragged the issue. The army said it required the act to effectively carry out counter-insurgency operations.
The controversial act, which was passed by Parliament in 1958, was extended to Kashmir in 1990 to battle out the mass armed rebellion. The act grants special powers to the armed forces and gives a cover of impunity.
"While seeking to give legal cover to soldiers, we are now giving them impunity wherein their actions have no consequences (punishment). There again, trust is eroded. There have been number of incidents where even if action has been taken, Kashmiris don't know if anything has happened," said the chief minister.
He said the Chattisinghpora incident (in which 38 Sikhs were killed) and the subsequent murder of innocent people, who were projected as militants, is a glaring example of it.
The chief minister blamed the army for the 2010 street agitation, which left 113 dead. "Those of us who are willing to look at it entirely will know this process actually started with the Machil fake encounter," he said.
Omar said there is a need for the government of India at the highest levels to take a look at these incidents. "The Centre needs to realise that unless justice is seen to be done, people will not have faith in the institutions," he added.
The chief minister lamented that very few (army) inquiries have been taken to their logical conclusion or the findings of these probes have been shared with people from 1996 to 2013.
However, minister Taj Mohuiddin of the Congress, who is in coalition with the ruling National Conference (NC), differed with the CM.
"According to the army, troops had laid an ambush fearing the presence of suspected militants in the Bandipora area. So even if there was no AFSPA, they would have been killed," he said.
He added that the AFSPA does not protect troops from being prosecuted from military court if not the civilian court.
The revocation of the act has become a major poll plank for the ruling NC. It is trying to strike a chord with alienated and separatist constituency in Kashmir by raking up the AFSPA issue, which has been an emotional issue for many in the state.