The army is no stranger to controversy in Jammu and Kashmir and the months ahead could witness fresh debate over the continuation of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) , especially with the home ministry rejecting a recommendation to repeal the law.
The common minimum programme of the People’s Democratic Party and the Bharatiya Janata Party underlines the coalition will examine the need for de-notifying ‘disturbed areas,’ a step towards restricting the scope of the controversial law before making a case to the Centre to withdraw it from some parts of the state.
The political climate in the state may have changed but the army’s stand on the AFSPA remains the same -- soldiers need special protection to discharge duties in areas that have been declared ‘disturbed.’
“The AFSPA has been a recurring theme in the state’s politics... The army steps in only after an area is declared disturbed and we need protection from prosecution while operating in a dangerous environment,” a senior army officer said on Monday.
AFSPA bestows sweeping powers on the security forces and prohibits prosecutions from being initiated without the go-ahead from the Centre, if the allegations are linked to the public duty of the accused.
The army has repeatedly signalled its unwillingness to accept any changes in AFSPA, arguing that it will upset the security architecture in the state. “If we are not required, send us back to the barracks. But if soldiers are putting their lives on the line, they need special protection,” said an officer serving in Kashmir.
The army is not even in favour of diluting the Act by withdrawing it from certain areas as the force believes it will hinder soldiers from operating seamlessly. Such concerns have been repeatedly conveyed to the government. Army officers say the dynamics of proxy war in the state have to be understood before tinkering with AFSPA.
Meanwhile, the home ministry told the cabinet committee on security that the recommendation of the Justice BP Jeevan Reddy committee should be rejected. Justice Reddy committee had recommended repeal of the law. Earlier, under the UPA government a Group of Ministers had decided to reject the report. But the MHA could not take the approval of the cabinet committee on security in this regard.