Why Some In Government Appear To Agree With Congress On AFSPA

Published: April 04, 2019 23:54 IST

Amid the debate on the Congress promise to amend the Armed Forces Special Powers Act or AFSPA, there have been some contrarian views from within the establishment. One of the stakeholders in Jammu and Kashmir - the state police - have posed a question: If the police, who are not covered under AFSPA, can operate in Jammu and Kashmir, why not the armed forces, they ask. A section of officials in the defence ministry also say that the government's muscular policy to contain insurgency in disturbed areas leaves something to be desired.

In its manifesto announced on Tuesday, the Congress said it would amend the law "to strike a balance between the powers of security forces and the human rights of citizens and to remove immunity for enforced disappearance, sexual violence and torture". The stance has triggered a huge political debate, with the ruling BJP contending that it would sap the morale of the armed forces. Senior leaders and ministers of the party have contended that the proposed amendment would only aid terrorists and anti-nationals.

AFSPA gives special powers to soldiers in insurgency-hit areas - allowing them to arrest, use force and even open fire on anyone breaking the law. But over the years, allegations of excesses have crept in.

Defence ministry officials say Lieutenant General DS Hooda, former Northern Army Commander and the man who gave inputs for the Congress manifesto, has seen the flipside of AFSPA. "The Kashmir bit on the manifesto has been drawn from Lt Gen Hooda's inputs, so it carries a lot of weight," a senior bureaucrat says. According to him, one can have muscular policy at the border areas, but can't adopt the same strategy where people of the country are involved.

A case in point is a situation when terrorists have holed up in a house and have to be flushed out. In almost 99 per cent such situations, the hideout is destroyed after the operation so as to make sure all terrorists are neutralised, explained an officer of the paramilitary forces. The local police, the officer said, are always assisted either by army or paramilitary forces. "This way, they have the extended protection of AFSPA," the officer said.

Section 4 of the AFSPA gives power to an officer to destroy any arms dump, prepared or fortified position or shelter. This is one of the most contentious portions of the Act, which is bitterly resented by the locals.

Insiders say this is one of the reasons why the UPA government was in favour of reframing the provisions. P Chidambaram, who was home minister in the Manmohan Singh government, was in favour of withdrawing AFSPA from certain areas. The Home Ministry had routed a proposal too, but it was turned down by then defence minister AK Antony, an official said.

The Congress manifesto also talks about dialogue with all stakeholders in valley - which is another departure from the muscular policy of the NDA government.

Under the current policy, framed under the eyes of National Security Advisor Ajit Doval, the government has adopted a hard stance. There is no scope of dialogue with any of the stakeholders, separatists or Pakistan. "The government did appoint special representative Dineshwar Sharma, but bound him down by Doval doctrine," a senior bureaucrat who looked after developments in Kashmir said.

But government data shows that violence in Kashmir Valley during the Narendra Modi government has gone up as compared to UPA regime. Figures from the home ministry show deaths in all three categories -- civilians, security personnel and terrorists - have spiked. Between 2014 and 2018, the number of civilians killed in Jammu and Kashmir has risen by 35.71 per cent; the number of security persons killed has increased by 93 per cent and the number of terrorists killed has seen a rise of 133.63 per cent.

Defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman has said that the government has withdrawn AFSPA where it was possible, like Meghalaya, Nagaland and parts of Assam. But the condition of Jammu and Kashmir is "very sensitive", she said.

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