Apart from the psychological impact of keeping the AFSPA in the headlines by casual or deliberate mention every now and then, which could well be one of the many strands of an elaborate security strategy, the issue has come to the forefront again due to the Justice Verma recommendations. That New Delhi would dismiss the recommendations out of hand was never in doubt, but that it would go about it in the lumpen fashion it has is a new low in established Congress venality. It is a pity that the partys true intellectual and moral capacity should have come to the fore in as reasonable, articulate and seemingly decent individual as the person who is now the union law minister. Inevitably, it has fallen to the lot of the erstwhile home minister, who presently holds the finance portfolio, to attempt damage control. And P Chidambaram has said nothing new. The opposition of the armed forces to any suggestion to withdraw the law wholly or partially is well know, as is the fact that the political executive – under which the entire security apparatus is supposed to operate – does not have the moral authority to make its writ run: or, as is the likely case, the arguments of the armed forces are a convenient escape route.
As stressed earlier as well, 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.
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