The Indian Army is refusing to play ball with human rights activists amidst rising clamour to dilute or altogether scarp the contentious Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), a senior General, in-charge of counter-insurgency operations in Jammu and Kashmir, has described the legislation as a holy book for the forces.
"I would like to say that the provisions of the Armed Forces Special Power Act are very pious to me and I think to entire Indian Army...We have religious books, there are certain guidelines which are given there, but all the members of the religion do not follow it, they break it also, does it imply that you remove the religious book or you remove this chap. My take on it is to find someone guilty, take him to task, but don't touch this pious document or provision of the Armed Forces Special Power Act giving the similarity to religious book, said Northern Army Commander Lt. Gen. BS Jaswal.
Gen Jaswal's strong defence of the Act is in keeping with the Army's stand that it cannot operate without it in Jammu and Kashmir or in the Northeast.
In the past couple of months Army has argued that without the Act it will not be able to launch proactive operations. The Army will also not be able to use force except in self-defence and not have powers to destroy ammunition dumps and IEDs.
Human rights activists have however contended time and again that the Act gives excessive powers to the soldiers. Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah has said in recent past that there is a need to revoke the Act since it is prone to abuse.
But the Army says majority of human rights abuse cases are found to be false and those found true have been severely dealt with.
- 1473 of 1511 cases since 1990 found false
- 104 Armymen punished in 35 cases so far
In its detailed reasoning to the government, the Army has said the AFSPA does not put the soldier above the law, but places him under a different set of laws because he operates in different circumstances.
"Sorry for saying this, lot of clichés get used in describing the Army, the circumstances under which Army functions is not known to people, that's why I said we want to feel the heat be there...to say that he is jury at that stage and he is the hangman, that jawan, I think we are stretching things a bit too far," said Lt. Gen BS Jaswal.
That the Supreme Court has upheld the AFSPA after incorporating certain safeguards against its misuse is something that the Army repeatedly points out and is therefore outraged at any suggestion to repeal the Act, seen as a must for operating in what it calls exceptional circumstances.