In a state as politically charged as Jammu and Kashmir, everyone knows that one swallow doesn’t make a summer. Yet when the summer — a time when militants cross the Line of Control to enter the Valley — passed peacefully this year, many rightly felt that New Delhi and Srinagar should seize the moment and build on it by agreeing to one key demand of the people of the state: the removal of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (Afspa), which was invoked in the Valley in 1990 and the Jammu region in 2001.
Understanding the desire of the people and also the political benefits it could accrue, chief minister Omar Abdullah announced last month that Afspa will be removed from some areas of the state. The Union government, on the other hand, is yet to come to a final decision, obviously weighed down by the Indian Army’s views on the removal of the Act as well as political opposition.
The Act gives the security forces unrestrained power to enter anyone’s home without warrants, arrest on suspicion and shoot to kill. Mr Abdullah wants the revocation of Afspa from at least four districts of the state — Srinagar and Budgam in the Valley and Jammu and Samba in the Jammu region.
Incidentally, the army has not operated in these area for quite some time and, therefore, doesn’t really need protection by being invested with special powers. The army feels that if Afspa is withdrawn, it would be ‘politically’ difficult to re-impose it again in case there is a spurt in terror attacks. Which is a bit of a chicken-and-egg argument. While the army’s view must be heard when it comes to security matters, it is also true that a law like Afspa, like curfews, cannot continue in perpetuity. Today, if Kashmir is normalising, then what could be a better way to test and confirm this ‘normalcy’ than by withdrawing this ‘extra-ordinary’ law? Even for the army, a peaceful Kashmir, minus its overt handholding, would mean that they have been doing their job well.
The Kashmir interlocutors’ report, which was given to the Centre recently, also favoured de-notification of the Disturbed Areas Act from certain ‘peaceful’ districts of the state leading to the automatic withdrawal of Afspa. In any case, no one is asking for a complete removal of the law but only a calibrated rollback to test the waters. Moreover, laws like Afspa must be used with a sell-by-date. Otherwise, with human rights violations committed by the army, such laws start resembling tools of repression even when they are not. One has to be especially sensitive when it comes to Kashmir considering that the old ‘traditional’ disconnect between ‘Delhi’ and ‘Srinagar’ has gradually receded and should stay that way.