The repeal of AFSPA from the civilian areas of Kashmir is imperative to resolve the present impasse
By Guru Aiyar(@guruaiyar)
The killing of Kashmiri militant Burhan Wani on July 8 by the security forces has once again set the cauldron of Kashmir on fire. All the gains made in Kashmir after the assembly elections last year and subsequent government formation have been completely frittered away. What more, Prime Minister Modi and Nawaz Sharif’s meet in Delhi on May 27 to improve bilateral relations is a dead letter now, especially after recent sabre rattling against Pakistan. What can surely improve the situation in Kashmir is partial revoking of the AFSPA from urban centres and keeping it alive on the areas close to the Line of Control (LoC) and northern areas bordering China.
The Act was imposed in Kashmir in July 1990 after full blown eruption of militancy in the valley. Twenty six years of the Act in force has come at a very high cost, both to the Indian forces as well as people of Kashmir. An Amnesty International report last year detailed that AFSPA has claimed more than 43,000 lives, about half of them being militants. Slightly less than one third of total killed were civilians and the rest being security personnel. The record of prosecutions of security personnel is abysmally low against allegations of abuse and torture. No one denies that the security forces are doing a yeoman’s sacrifice. But, there is no suppressing the fact that they have been operating under near impunity which is one of the factors for festering insurgency.
Repealing the Act is an extremely challenging task—one that needs political courage, confidence and a statesmanlike approach to problem solving. Next comes the incentive—gains that are to accrue should the act be repealed. Like any complex jigsaw, the aim should be to break it into minor solvable puzzles. There are two aspects to repealing the act—“why” should it be done, and “how” it can be done? It is easy to answer the first question. The first time time any government came closest to was the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) I when it appointed a commission under a retired Supreme Court judge Justice BP Jeevan Reddy Commission. The commission, which had a retired General from the army, unanimously recommended that the act be repealed. It termed the act “too sketchy, too bald and quite inadequate in several particulars.”
There is no need to reinvent the wheel while debating about repeal of the act. The question “how to do it” can be answered by first repealing the act from major urban centres and hinterland of Kashmir. Omar Abdullah, the then Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir had precisely suggested this in 2013. To assuage the concerns of the security forces, they can be made to operate under Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) 2008 with adequate safeguards.
The situation now has got caught in a vortex of political conundrums. The politicians claim that it is the army who is objecting to the repeal of AFSPA. The army, on its part claims that the situation is not ripe to repeal the Act. But when the situation was ripe in 2010, what was it that prevented the army from acceding? Simply raising the fear of Pakistan in the minds of politicians naturally propels them to persist with the status quo.
Wajahat Habibullah, a retired bureaucrat articulated this very clearly when he stated that there no need for the army in civilian areas of Kashmir. The AFSPA can continue in areas on the LoC with Pakistan and to counteract the menacing presence of the Chinese army on the northern areas of Kashmir. There is no need for the army to be in the civilian areas in Kashmir. It is time that political will gets asserted unequivocally. Even if the army and defence ministry is overruled, this will be a game of brinksmanship to get a political consensus by the ruling party—not only from within, but even across the spectrum. Prime Minister Modi’s acid test will be to retrieve the present situation which is on the verge of disaster. It is an extraordinarily tough call. But extraordinary situations demand completely ‘out of the box’ solutions. In all probability, the prime minister would like to be remembered as the statesman who solved Kashmir.
Guru Aiyar is a Research Fellow with Takshashila Institution, an independent think tank on strategic affairs and geopolitics and tweets @guruaiyar
Featured Image – Indian Soldiers in Kashmir by Barry Pousman licensed from creative commons.