In an unusual statement, the Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar has asked the ministry of home affairs to take a call on the removal of AFSPA in J&K. This is the first time that the defence establishment has passed the buck on revoking the dreaded law on the home ministry. Parrikar was reacting to the Chief Minister Mehbooba Muftis call for repealing AFSPA from some areas of the state on an experimental basis. The defence ministers statement has, however, raised more questions than it has answered. For example, Parrikars statement doesnt clear the air over the defence establishments own position on the issue. In past, the defence ministry has opposed the revocation or amendment to the law. In 2010, the ministry had squashed the advanced efforts to do away with the law from at least some zero-militancy districts of the state. What is more, the army didnt even operate from such districts.
At that time home ministry under P Chidambaram had exhibited a keen interest in the withdrawal of the law. The then Chief Minister Omar Abdullah had even announced the lifting of AFSPA in a matter of days. But the defence ministry torpedoed the move. Later Chidambaram had announced a plan to amend the AFSPA in the country. Union Home Ministry had sought three amendments to the law and the proposal had been sent to the Cabinet Committee on Security. Although Chidambaram hadnt elaborated on the kind of amendments being made, these reportedly included the requirement for the security forces to get arrest warrants in advance, taking away the power of the armed forces to open fire causing death and setting up of a grievance redress cell. But here again, the Cabinet Committee on Security sat on the proposal until the UPA term ended.
The defence ministrys position on AFSPA has remained the same over the past two years of the Modi government. In fact, it has become expectedly even more hawkish under the Modi government. This is why, despite agreeing to reviewing the law in the Agenda of Alliance with PDP, the centre has, by and large, backtracked on the promise. Signs of the renewed militancy has also put the issue on the backburner. PDP has all but gone silent on the demand. Though Mehbooba has once again sought removal of the law, albeit on an experimental basis, the demand seems more for public consumption in the light of the disproportionate use of the force on the protests that broke out following the killing of Burhan Muzaffar Wani. However, the defence minister’s response has lent some degree of seriousness to the AFSPA talk. Does it mean that the defence ministry is ready to fall in line should home ministry decide to withdraw the law from some areas? This is something that was not the case during UPA regime. And if this is the case now, it is arguably is a positive development.
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