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Army makes a strong case against withdrawal of AFSPA in J&K

October 27, 2011 16:02 IST

Armed Forces (special Powers) Act should not be revoked until the proxy war in Jammu and Kashmir is stopped and the state police machinery is able to handle the normal law and order situation. R S Chauhan reports.

JK Chief Minister Omar Abdullah may be adamant in trying to remove what many call the contentious Armed Forces (special Powers) Act from certain parts of the state, but the Army which is authorised to operate only under this law in internal security deployment is very clear that time is not ripe for freeing some districts from the AFSPA.

"The time has come for the revocation of laws (AFSPA and DAA--Disturbed Areas act), which were invoked in the state after militancy, from some areas of the state within the next few days," Abdullah said addressing those gathered for the Police Commemoration Day function at Zewan near Srinagar.

He, however, did not name the areas from where these laws would be removed. "I am not in a position to name those areas at the moment," he said.

Caught off-guard, the Army expressed surprise over Abdullah's statement and said no consultations had taken place in this regard. On Sunday, two days after Abdullah's statement, the Army told a high-level Central delegation that time was not ripe for the withdrawal of the act since Pakistan's efforts to fuel militancy in the Kashmir Valley were continuing.

The Army pointed out that intelligence inputs suggest that over 2,500 militants were present in 42 training camps in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (Pok). Of these, 800 are poised to cross over to India. Around thirty odd militants have been killed along the Line of Control (LoC) in the last two months while attempting to cross over. Other intelligence agencies also confirmed that infiltration attempts from across the LoC were likely to continue even during the winter months this time, since many top leaders of the Lashkar-e-Taiyba and other militant outfits have been eliminated by the Army in the past six months and therefore the militant network needed new leaders to take over operations in the valley.

Sure enough, by Wednesday five different attacks had taken place in the Kashmir Valley, reinforcing the Army's contention. The attacks also led to a "preposterous" charge being levelled by Omar Abdullah's uncle and senior National Conference leader Mustafa Kamal that the Army had engineered the attacks to strengthen its case for retention of the AFSPA.

A horrified Omar Abdullah immediately forced Kamal to retract the statement and tried to pacify the Army.

Senior Army officers say that while they understand the compulsions of politics, they cannot accept or digest such a preposterous charge simply because the Army's record in fighting militancy in Kashmir is impeccable and is there for all to see.

But what exactly is the AFSPA and why does the Army need the act's protection in operating in JK?

In a background note prepared for giving a perspective to the uninitiated, the Army makes a strong case for retention of the AFSPA until the proxy war is stopped and the state police machinery is able to handle the normal law and order situation.

In parts the note says:

"From the Indian Army's perspective, there is a strong case for retention of AFSPA. The status of the state of J&K as per Pakistani perception continues to remain disputed. To ward off external as well as externally inspired internal threats, a large presence of troops is required to defend the territory of the nation by defending the LoC through heavy deployment along the LoC or IB.

This defence can be organised only by ensuring domination along the line, by physical and necessary justifiable use of force. In the depth, the receiving areas/catchments areas of militants similarly need to be dominated, searched and neutralised. The arteries feeding the far flung areas also need to be kept sanitised for utilisation by SF and government agencies. All this and more is only possible provided the AFSPA, which provides the legal frame work for the troops to perform their duties, remains operational and not revoked.

Repealing the act or removing it will result in severe limitations to the Army and its impact will be felt as under :-

(a) Proactive operations will be severely affected under extant laws for Aid to Civil Authority since it has major limitations in this kind of environment and will result in the initiative being passed to the militant.  

(b) The Army will not have the powers to arrest or search any individual or premise suspected to be indulging in/being used for anti-national activities.  

(c) The Armed forces will not be able to use any force to diffuse any situation other than in self defence.  

(d) Powers to destroy ammunition dumps, IEDs (improvised explosive devices) will be nonexistent. 

(e) Troops will not be able to perform their duties in the prevailing environment without proper legal cover. Besides the question of morale the orders of the commanders on ground themselves would be questionable by his command as 'unlawful'.

(f) It would bolster the will of anti-nationals and provide a definitive surge to militancy. 

The Armed forces are operating in a highly hostile environment to defend the border as well as for CI/CT (Counter-insurgency, Counter-terrorist) operations in the hinterland. In so doing they are required to ensure minimum/nil collateral damage and safeguard the human rights of the people. With such operational constraints, the Armed forces, fighting for the national cause require full backing and support of the government of necessary powers and legal support, to avoid legal actions/prosecutions.

Hence there is a definite requirement for continuation of the act till the time insurgency in the state is brought down to the manageable levels and the state government machinery is able to establish its writ."

Human rights activists and some politicians, however, feel that the AFSPA must go, calling it a draconian act. With such extreme positions on either side, a resolution to this debate looks unlikely in the near future.
R S Chauhan in New Delhi