AFSPA not the issue, atrocities are

At a time when the demand for  revocation of the AFSPA has by and large vanished from the public discourse in Kashmir, central government has reiterated that there were no  “plans to withdraw or amend the Armed Forces (Jammu and Kashmir) Special Powers Act, 1990”.  Speaking in Lok Sabha, Union minister Hansraj Gangaram Ahir, however, added that a proposal was under consideration to make the AFSPA “more operationally effective and humane”. It is true there has been a long-standing demand from various quarters in J&K  and the Northeast to withdraw the Act but with the Army consistently resisting the move, the people have largely resigned to the law. More so, in Kashmir where renewed militancy has fortified security establishment’s position on the issue.

The army’s contention has been that revoking AFSPA would substantially curtail its scope for effectively conducting anti-insurgency operations in the state. Deprived of immunity against prosecution, the security personnel will have their hands tied to the back in their fight against militancy, so goes the argument. Similarly, Army has also been against phased removal of the law from the areas which have not seen militancy for a long time. Army  invokes the looming threat of a renewed spell of insurgency once militants take shelter in the areas where there is no AFSPA in force. Even if we choose to see some rationale in the Army’s contention, but the continuation of the AFSPA should hardly mean a license to the security personnel to get away with the human rights excesses. Recent killings of the civilians in Shopian and the subsequent stone-walling of even an FIR against the Army major Aditya Kumar, shows the inherent dangers of the AFSPA. What make the arguments for the AFSPA further untenable is that security forces adamantly refuse to take a prompt corrective action in obvious cases of human rights violations, like the one in Shopian.

For once, there was a silver lining, though. Army’s Machil verdict had showed the way. Five army men  including two officers convicted in the fake encounter of the three Kashmiri youth were sentenced to life imprisonment. But soon after they were released on bail and their life terms were suspended by the Armed Forces Tribunal. This reversed the public confidence generated by what was seen as a  rare punishment. As the Machil case had once showed, what matters is the accountability of the personnel responsible for gross excesses, not the revocation of law per se. Best way out is the willingness among the security agencies to act fairly and speedily in case of rights violations. This is the only pragmatic solution under the circumstances. One can ask what is stopping the centre from making necessary modifications in the law that makes the security personnel who commit human rights violations accountable for their actions. Such actions cannot be left entirely to the discretion of the Army. There has to be an inbuilt legal mechanism to punish the erring personnel irrespective of the institutional discretion of the security and paramilitary forces.

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