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Tag Archives | Line of control

Repealing the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) in Kashmir will need extremely deft political approach

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 Next comes the incentive—gains that are to accrue should the act be repealed.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.

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Siachen glacier — strategic options to demilitarise

The immense loss of precious lives and high material cost with a not so high strategic stakes is a good reason for the Indian government to consider withdrawing from Siachen

The recent death of 9 Indian soldiers due to an avalanche on the Siachen glacier made headlines. According to initial reports, the tally was 10 killed but on February 9, the miraculous survival of a soldier brought some solace. This tragedy has once again brought to fore, the high human cost and not so high utility of presence of the Indian army. This is not the first time that this issue is being debated. In 2012, when Pakistan army lost more than a 100 soldiers in a similar natural tragedy, the then Pak army chief General Kayani had made a similar suggestion. More than 2000 soldiers have died on both sides so far. This is not taking into account the permanent disability suffered due to frostbite, and several other high altitude related ailments.

The eyeball-to-eyeball position of troops of India-Pakistan is a legacy of partition. In 1949, when UN declared ceasefire, Pakistan had occupied about one-third of Kashmir and called it Azad Kashmir(India refers to it as Pakistan Occupied Kashmir). The ceasefire line was demarcated up to a point called NJ 9842. Beyond NJ 9842, the documents signed by both the sides had the phrase ‘thence north’ to glaciers for the line of control (post Simla agreement in 1972, the ceasefire line was called the LoC). This phrase became the bone of contention. The Indian army occupied the Saltoro Ridge in a daring operation in April 1984 when there were intelligence reports of the Pak army’s moves to occupy the same. Pak army swiftly moved on the opposite side. The two sides have been static ever since with the weather taking a much heavier human toll than actual combat.

Demilitarisation of Siachen was first mooted in Rajiv Gandhi’s tenure as Prime Minister. Pavan Nair, an ex-army veteran, in a well researched article on the subject questions the strategic value of maintaing troops there. True, Pakistan ceded Shaksgam valley to China in 1963. The hawks will always contend that Pakistan will play mischief along with China. To get troops into Nubra, Pakistan army would have to climb to about 24,000 feet and drop down to travel along the glacier — a logistical nightmare by any stretch of imagination. To reach the same place, alternately it could use the flatter approach through Shyok valley. In fact, the Indian army did plan to use this approach during ‘Exercise Brasstacks’ in 1987.

The answer to argument ‘What if” Pakistan occupies is to invest in high technology drones and position the troops at such a location where advance warning can pre-empt any such action. A rapid reaction force in Shyok/Nubra valley can effectively deter such a misadventure. Withdrawal will need tremendous political will on both the sides. The most difficult stakeholder to please will be the security establishment. Inder Gill, a well respected General of the Indian army, had this to say in an Op-ed that appeared in The Hindu in 1997:”The amounts of money wasted by both sides is very large indeed. There is nowhere that either side can go in this terrain…We have no strategic-tactical advantage. Nor can Pakistan. We must withdraw immediately and unilaterally and save wastage of money.” The general did not mention human cost—which is of course priceless.

Guru Aiyar is a Research Scholar with Takshashila Institution and tweets @guruaiyar

Featured Image: Nubra Valley by rv, licensed from creativecommons.org


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