The demand of repealing the Armed Forces Special Powers Act fully or partially in Jammu and Kashmir has relevance only in the retrospective sense, for, in operational terms, the motivation and propensity of the forces to inflict large-scale damage on non-combatants has diminished with the depleting strength of opponents. The rhetoric of the chief minister and the separatist camp notwithstanding, the basic quarrel with the AFSPA is the impunity and license it confers on the forces for wilful and deliberate fatal attrition on civilians amid high militant activity. With a near absence of the latter, this abuse is spaced wider apart and not as rampant as before, but still under the protective umbrella of the special law. Viewed in the time-frame of the past few years of low incidence of reported HR violations, repealing the AFSPA would make little difference vis-a-vis relief to the civilian population, but might improve the chances of justice for the victims of the forces abuse of power. This appears to be the main apprehension exercising New Delhi in its studied refusal to entertain any suggestions to withdraw the law. For the AFSPA is more a shield for the countrys political establishment than of the armed forces. If, somewhere down the line, cases of abuse by the forces come up for public trial, the political bungling and the criminal ineptitude of the countrys top leadership are bound to figure in determining the source of the actions of the prosecuted officers and men. This primarily would be the reason why the political establishment is putty in the hands of the defence establishment over the question of revoking the law which should have been totally a political decision, now abdicated to the generals.
In his first visit to Kashmir as Indias home minister, Sushil Kumar Shinde has revealed himself to be a smooth politician of the old school which has perfected the art of getting away with glaring contradictions with the ease of an accomplished conjurer. Note the sophistry of the union ministers statements in crediting the people of Kashmir for defeating militancy, and in the same breath stressing the necessity of the AFSPA for the time being in the face of real or imagined militant threat. According to some reports of his comments, Mr Shinde has gone as far as admitting the Indian establishments failure to put down militancy and asserted that the situation had been retrieved by the Kashmiri people themselves. All of this is immensely politically gratifying and meant to go down well with the population not expected to notice the underlying fallacy. If the political and the security establishment, with the AFSPA not only as the flag-carrier but also the spearhead of anti-militancy strategy, had not succeeded in the first place, how can the law then be regarded as direly essential for preventing a resurgence? Secondly, if, according to the union home minister, the people of Kashmir have played such a significant role in defeating militancy, why not invest further in this asset and bolster its trust and confidence to higher levels by revoking the law and delivering justice to the many victims of forces abuse? Would this not be a more reliable defence against resurgence? As it is, the need of the AFSPA in fighting militancy has always been questionable, and its deleterious impact in deepening violence, as in the north-east, too well expounded by experts, to merit repeating. The authority to search and detain at will does not necessarily need the authority to knowingly kill unarmed civilians, or arbitrarily subject them to disappearance, and the impunity to get away with it.
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