Modify if not revoke AFSPA in J&K

In a major decision on Monday, the Union Home Ministry revoked the Armed Forces Special Powers Act from Meghalaya.  The decision was taken after consultations between centre and the state government. Similarly, AFSPA is now applicable only in eight police stations in Arunachal. The Home Ministry has also enhanced the aid under the surrender-cum-rehabilitation policy for militants in northeast from Rs 1 lakh to Rs 4 lakh. The decision has naturally caused some heartburn in Kashmir.

Revocation of the controversial has been a longstanding political demand in J&K but despite repeated assurances to the previous governments and also a written commitment to the incumbent government in the agenda of alliance between the ruling PDP and BJP, the centre has backed out of any action.  True, the security situation over the past two years has drastically deteriorated  in the Valley lending weight to the security and political voices which frown on any repeal of the law. However, it is also true that until 2015 the militancy in the state had declined to an extent where the AFSPA could have been removed – at least in parts of the state where militancy has reduced to zero. Then the argument advanced was that doing so would facilitate renewal of militancy. But it still has and despite the AFSPA being in place.   

If anything, one of the inferences that can be drawn from this state of affairs is that there may not be necessarily a direct co-relation or a causal relationship between the AFSA and the militancy. And there shouldn’t be, in a sense.  Militancy, especially the one engendered by the complex historical and political factors and also aided by a predominantly favourable public sentiment cannot be dealt exclusively by the force. More so, when that force is largely unaccountable and thereby leads to human rights violations which further complicate than address the situation.

At a social level in Kashmir, the argument against AFSPA hasn’t been so much about its removal as against some of its provisions which grant impunity to the soldiers responsible for even the heinous human rights excesses. In 2012, the then Home Minister P Chidambaram had revealed a plan to make “three amendments” to the law. The amendments reportedly included the requirement for the security forces to get arrests warrants in advance, taking away of the power of the armed forces to open fire causing death and setting up of a grievance redress cell. Six years down the line, such changes in the law remain  a very 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. One hopes, if not entirely revoke the law from the state, the union government will at least take concrete steps to modify the AFSPA in ways that discourages the arbitrary use of the power by the security personnel.






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