AFSPA Debate

JAMMU and Kashmir Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha on Monday said there is no need to set up a panel to review the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) in the union territory. "Do not be concerned about it. I am looking into it. I do not feel any such need," Sinha told a press conference in Jammu. This is contrary to what the union government has done in Nagaland where it has constituted a high-level five-member committee, headed by a secretary-rank officer, to examine the possibility of lifting the AFSPA following the recent killing of 14 civilians.

In Jammu and Kashmir, the withdrawal of the AFSPA has been a longstanding debate but ultimately it has gone nowhere as the defense ministry has shown itself to do away with it, more so in the case of Jammu and Kashmir. Now the recent carnage in Nagaland has rekindled the debate in the Valley where it had all but faded out from public discourse in recent years. More so, following the revocation of Article 370 in August 2019 since when it is seen as a holy grail, an intrinsic fact of Kashmir’s life. Former J&K Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti has once again called for a review of the law. National Conference Member of Parliament from Anantnag Hasnain Masoodi too supported the demand for repeal of AFSPA in parliament saying the law has impacted J&K the most.

However, it is very unlikely that the demand for the withdrawal of the AFSPA from J&K will find any traction at the national level where there exists a near political consensus about the continuation of the law which is seen as necessary to reign in the militancy.

The AFSPA was enforced in the Kashmir Valley in 1990, a year after the outbreak of militancy, and was extended to Jammu a decade later. The Act gives the armed forces immunity from prosecution while operating in the internal conflict zones. The army has consistently stonewalled the bids to revoke Article 370 by invoking worst-case security scenarios should the AFSPA be lifted, even if partially. Even at times, when militancy was at its lowest ebb in J&K.

The law gives the army and the paramilitary forces sweeping powers to conduct their operations as “under this Act, no prosecution, suit or other legal proceeding shall be instituted,” against the security personnel acting in good faith in the line of duty. And it is these grounds that the Valley politicians have tapped into to often fashion a political narrative for the phase-wise rollback of the law. But the rationale of the defense forces is that they cannot operate freely without the AFSPA in a conflict zone like Kashmir. And the centre is least likely to overlook the opinion of the armed forces on security, more so, in a place like Kashmir.

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