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AFSPA: One Act, two stages

The Armed Forces Special Powers Act has been instrumental in improving the situation in the Kashmir valley. So, is it time to withdraw the Act? Arun Joshi reports.

india Updated: Jun 22, 2010 01:04 IST
Arun Joshi
Arun Joshi
Hindustan Times

“If the situation in Kashmir has improved, why should this law stay?” asks Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) President Mehbooba Mufti.

The law in question is the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA). The opposition to it is growing. Reason: it gives legal cover to the armed forces for their acts of omission and commission (see All you wanted to know about AFSPA).

The PDP, the main opposition party in J&K, took to the streets on the issue as early as 2007. Before that, separatists had raised the pitch, calling for repealing this “draconian law”.

The AFSPA was invoked in Kashmir on July 5, 1990, because the security forces needed it to deal with the surging insurgency in the valley. It was enforced in Jammu on August 11, 2001.

“The need (for the law) was obvious,” said former governor G.C. Saxena, who had invoked AFSPA in 1990. “The administration was non-existent in many parts of the state ... there was no alternative (to this Act),” he told HT.

However, there is a gulf of difference in the ground situation in the state between then and now.

Today, in Kashmir there are very few checkpoints on roads leading to the countryside. Farmers and owners of orchards are doing their work. Tourists have returned to the Valley – an estimated one million of them are expected to visit Kashmir this year. The dividends of even a limited peace are already beginning to show.

But AFSPA remains a lightning rod. Separatists and some opposition figures have used the atrocities committed by one or two bad apples in the security forces – always without official sanction – and the consequent alienation of citizens to stoke discontent and separatism in the state.

J&K Chief Minister Omar Abdullah has held several rounds of discussions with the Centre on the withdrawal of the Act in the state – the latest were with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on June 8.

Abdullah said: “Discussions are in progress on the modification of the law, and we are looking at a gradual (reduction) of the areas under its purview.”

But the Army is holding out. It is against any amendment or dilution of the law, and dismisses its revocation straight out of hand.

Its argument: extraordinary situations require extraordinary remedies.

Northern Command chief Lt Gen. B.S. Jaswal has called the Act a “pious document” and opposed its dilution.

The Army, which lost 3,820 personnel to militancy in J&K, feels this Act played a large role in pulling Kashmir back from the brink.

Saxena felt that with the changing situation “the Act should be constantly reviewed as it is not necessary in perpetuity”.

Indeed, it isn’t, but the Centre is unlikely to heed the state government without a buy-in from the Army.

“We had placed this demand (for revocation of AFSPA) before the Prime Minister, but nothing happened; that’s how they (the Centre) treat our proposals,” said a fuming Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, chairman of the moderate faction of the Hurriyat Conference.

The debate will continue, but the continuance of the law will give its opponents a further lease of life.

First Published: Jun 22, 2010 01:00 IST