AFSPA: Needless controversy

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AFSPA: Needless controversy

Date: 25/10/2011
AFSPA: Needless controversy
Rohit Singh


The clamour for the removal of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) has grown shriller with Chief Minister Omar Abdullah hinting at the possible revocation of the special act from four districts of J&K. The AFSPA was promulgated in J&K at the outbreak of insurgency in 1990. As it became no longer possible for the state and central police forces to contain the deteriorating security situation, the state was brought under President’s rule and the Army called in. The Disturbed Areas Act was made operational in all districts of the state enabling promulgation of the AFSPA.

The primary role of the Armed Forces is to defend the country from external aggression. The two acts, therefore, are a pre-requisite for the Armed Forces of the Union to operate in special internal security situations like the ones obtaining in J&K and the North East. The CrPC contains similar provisions for the police and central police forces to operate in such situations. India being a democratic country, the employment of the Armed Forces in internal security duties was not envisaged by the drafters of the constitution and it contained no provision for them to operate within the country for a prolonged period of time. The Army can only operate at the request of the state governments in aid to civil authority or in internal security duties such as riot-control, etc. The deployment of the Army and powers to open fire are strictly implemented at the instructions of the concerned District Magistrate. However, counter-insurgency situations are a completely different ball game. Here, the Army has to operate over a vast area where the writ of the civilian administration is virtually non-existent. The anti-national elements or militants operating in greater numbers are widely dispersed and are well trained and equipped, often by an external player. The local population is either subverted or coerced to support the militants’ cause. Under these prevailing conditions, the Army deployment is often prolonged and requires special provisions for even its basic functioning such as carrying out routine administrative movements and operations.

The AFSPA is only an enabling provision for the Army to operate in extra-ordinary situations prevailing within the country. The act offers basic protection and provision for the Army to fire in self-defence, carry out searches and detain suspects, etc. These are essential tactical requirements for troops engaged in counter-insurgency operations. As the Constitution of India provides for fundamental human rights and freedom to every citizen of the country, the Army operating without the AFSPA would be in violation of the constitution. Therefore, the act provides basic safeguards and immunity to troops operating in disturbed areas. In fact, contrary to popular perception, the AFSPA imposes tremendous self-restraint on soldiers. For instance, it provides for opening fire only when fired-upon. In many tactical situations while operating against an often un-known and hidden enemy, this imposes great risks on the personal safety of the soldiers. Be that as it may, a false impression has been created by certain human rights groups and vested interests that the AFSPA is a draconian act which provides immunity to the Army in conducting excesses on the population. This is not true as even the AFSPA calls for suspects to be handed over to the civil police within 24 hours (maybe extendable upto 48 hours in remote areas) and requires the police/CPOs to accompany Army troops in conducting cordon and search operations in villages. There are other stringent documentation measures such as apprehension roles, seizure memos, etc which are binding on security forces personnel. So, what needs to be understood is not the problem in AFSPA but in its violation by the security forces personnel. These aberrations are adequately dealt with by the Army.

Coming back to the proposal of withdrawing the act from Srinagar, Budgam, Udhampur and Jammu districts of J&K. While militancy is virtually absent from the latter two districts of Jammu division, the levels of violence has come down considerably in Srinagar and Budgam districts of the Kashmir valley, although sporadic incidents of grenade-lobbing is not infrequent, especially in Srinagar city. But, it is also true that the densely populated parts of downtown Srinagar is often utilised by militants as their hideouts. Abdullah Uni, the North Kashmir divisional commander of the LeT who was finally gunned down in Sopore recently, was known to frequent Batamaloo locality on a motor-bike. Also on 10 March, the J&K Police had gunned down two JeM militants including its Chief Operations Commander in Kashmir on the banks of the Dal Lake. In this a parallel may be drawn to the consequences of removing AFSPA from the municipal limits of Imphal in 2004. The militants simply moved into Imphal and carved safe-havens. The levels of violence subsequently increased not only in Imphal but in other parts of the state as well. Although the Army does not operate in Srinagar city, it conducts specific intelligence-based operations in support of the police as and when required. For instance, on 21 October 2010, three JeM militants were killed by the Army in Maloora locality on the outskirts of the city.

In light of the above, can there be a guarantee that militants would not carve a safe-haven in Srinagar city or stash arms caches or would they also be governed by a law not to operate in areas where AFSPA has been revoked? The answer is an unequivocal no. Therefore, even if the CRPF and Police can manage the security situation in Srinagar and Budgam districts, the Army can still not operate in case there is a sudden exigency like a fidayeen or suicide attack. Leave alone operating, the Army has a substantial presence in and around Srinagar city. Its Corps headquarters, the nerve-centre of all counter-insurgency operations in the valley is located at Badami Bagh and there are several other garrisons at Batamaloo (Tattoo Ground), Zakhura, Rangreth, Old Airfield, Srinagar Airport, Sharifabad (Shalateng) and Khrew. A Rashtriya Rifles sector headquarters with at least two battalions are located in Budgam district. Hundreds of Army vehicles move every day on National highway 1 to other parts of the state and between these garrisons. In the eventuality that a convoy is attacked by militants in Srinagar or Budgam and the Army retaliates in self-defence, will the soldiers be hauled up in a court of law for violation of human rights or a separate provision of law would govern actions of the Army in non-AFSPA areas ? Therefore, removal of AFSPA will impose tremendous logistical and administrative challenges on the Army for carrying out its operational tasks on the line of control and elsewhere in the state.

The Omar Abdullah government would do well to explore other political, social and economic measures to reap the benefits of the peaceful security environment in the state. The visibility of the Army can be reduced further from urban areas. In addition, measures such as frisking and cordon and search operations by the CRPF in Srinagar city have been brought down considerably. AFSPA is a technical requirement for the Army as long as the proxy-war situation prevails in J&K. Although the level of violence is at an all-time low and tourism is burgeoning, the worsening security environment in Afghanistan and Pakistan can have a bearing on the situation in J&K. While the Army is capable of tackling terrorists at the line of control itself, there can be no guarantee of zero-infiltration or terrorists using other routes to enter the state. The Indian Army has lost more than 1570 officers and men in maintaining the peace in the state since 1990. It has exercised tremendous restraint in conducting counter-insurgency operations even in the face of grave provocations. Human rights excesses are dealt with severely and every soldier is provided with guidelines in the form of the ‘Ten Commandments’ for conducting operations. The reported incidents of human rights violations have also come down substantially over the years and the issue of AFSPA and rights violations need to be viewed separately. Violations can occur even without AFSPA as these are isolated incidents carried out by an individual soldier who may have gone astray. Unfortunately, removal of AFSPA has become an emotive issue and is seen in some quarters as the panacea for all ills. It should be remembered that the Army was not responsible for bringing about insurgency and AFSPA is only an enabling provision for it to battle the insurgents or terrorists. A solution to the problem also has to be found outside the military or legal realms.

Rohit Singh is an Associate Fellow at CLAWS
 

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Army is not the master of J&K: Farooq Abdullah | Devils Advocate | Nov 27 2011

Union Minister and President of the National Conference Farooq Abdullah has come out strongly in support of his son and Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah's demand to partially lift the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) from certain areas.

An interesting interview where the elder comes out strongly in favour of lifting AFSPA in certain areas.
 


sachins

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I don't understand why the leaders of kashmir valley are being given powers to influence the future of ladakh and jammu. Just divide the bloody state into three and seal the state borders.Jammu and ladakh deserve better than to live or share its administration with kashmir valley.
 
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