Thanks to a rather gauche union home minister, Kashmirs AFSPA debate has got a new, though temporary, lease of life, with politicians falling over each other in trumpeting the valleys testimonials of peace. Valid though they are, New Delhi is not known to see facts as they appear stark and clear, but only through the distorting prism of its own exigencies which, in this case, are severe compulsions. As these columns have pointed out earlier as well, in the context of abuses and violations in Kashmir, the AFSPA serves less to protect the military and more to shield the political leadership under which it purportedly operates. In his August 15 speech at the Bakhshi Stadium, chief minister Omar Abdullah had sought to close the chapter and opted for short-term inconvenience for long-term relief. But there was also a strand of honesty in the declaration, as he had been upfront about it rather than let the issue peter out through a sly and surreptitious silence. Though far from being an explanation the masses deserved after his highly- publicised ventilation of the demand, the chief ministers words were a candid admission of the real score, and more than a broad hint on how the issue was likely to pan out. An individual named Sushil Kumar Shinde has borne him out.
The establishment is not known to hold itself back when expounding on a deteriorating situation as all and sundry come firing on all cylinders when events put security in a purportedly precarious position. On the contrary, things could not have been going better in Kashmir, and conspicuously, the military has lately been uncharacteristically silent over the issue. One of the many conclusions therefore is that the political establishment has been hard at work, not only in convincing Mr. Abdullah of its limited leverage with the generals, but also in finding new excuses for its stand. But the peace ploy is an old one. For New Delhi, no place is as peaceful as Kashmir when it comes to discussing the issue in world fora, but when it comes to the AFSPA, peace in Kashmir is still a distant dream. A holistic view of the state over the past two decades is that the military has been papering over the mess created primarily by New Delhis mishandling, and now demands its pound of flesh. The top brass certainly would not countenance inconveniences like accountability before law when it has served, rather bloodily, where politicians have miserably failed. The arguments for the use and need of the AFSPA, even at the peak of militancy, have always been specious. The only manner the law comes in handy for the establishment is when the military strays from the strictly professional path, which it has often in Kashmir. Parameters widely proffered today presage a further drop in the graph of attrition. So, the generals hands-tied-behind-backs argument goes on becoming less and less tenable. The only fear, therefore, is the retrospective applicability of ordinary law if the AFSPA were to go any time soon.
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