Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah has indicated that the two of the most controversial laws -- the Armed Forces Special Powers Act and the Disturbed Areas Act -- which give unbridled powers to security forces will be relaxed in at least four districts in the state.
Revoking of these laws has now become a matter of debate, evoking mixed reactions from various sections of the society. The Jammu and Kashmir administration feels that this decision will win the hearts of the public and help establish peace in the region. However, there is also fear that after AFSPA and DDA are revoked Pakistan could take advantage of the situation and pump up infiltration.
C D Sahay, former Research and Analysis Wing chief, feels that removing the two laws is a good step that could give boost to the Kashmir peace process. "There are irritants in Kashmir which the chief minister wanted to do away with and he seems to have the support of the government of India. Why I say this is a step forward is because there will be some accountability now. Each time a person goes missing one cannot put a militant tag on him and end the matter," he said. "However one needs to determine very critically whether the situation in Kashmir today is as bad as it used to be 10 years back."
The chief minister has an idea of the situation in the state. Law and order remains a state subject and if the government in the Valley is confident that the army can secure the border and prevent infiltration then revoking laws is a step taken in the right direction, according to Sahay.
"When I speak about a critical analysis of the situation in J&K, I mean we must take into account various aspects. The big question remains -- Is Pakistan down and out at the moment? I can say with confidence that the Hizbul Mujahideen certainly is. The outfit has cadres but their capacity to continue infiltration is questionable," he said.
"I recollect that a couple of years back at least 3,000 mujahideens would infiltrate into J&K every year and today their numbers have reduced to a trickle. This is a clear indicator of their weakening strength. However, India needs to analyse the Jaish-e-Mohammad and the Lashkar-e-Tayiba, which according to me are growing powerful with each passing day."
The former R&AW chief is clearly in favour of relaxation of the two laws. "However, I am sure that the army would not like to venture into areas where these laws are revoked. Hence, it's important that civil administration imposes vigil in these areas," he said.
He pointed out that there might be some discontentment about the laws being relaxed selectively. "All of us would like these laws to be removed completely, but it's better that this is done in a phased manner. Only after we receive a statement from Pakistan it's safe to get rid of AFSPA and DDA. We need an assurance from our neighbours that they will not indulge in violence and otherwise the move could be dangerous," he said.
However, Sahay felt that Abdullah should have placed the proposal to relax the laws before the home ministry before making an announcement.
Professor S A R Geelani, from the Delhi University who was acquitted by the Supreme Court in the Parliament attack case, feels the proposal to revoke laws in few districts is a sham. "It would be looked at as a positive step if the laws were relaxed across the state. Withdrawing AFSPA and DDA in a few districts will do no good and the situation will be exploited. These laws are draconian and why should they exist when there's a democratically-elected government?" he said.
"Such laws if relaxed in only a few districts can be misused. Why should you give a soldier a right to kill a person without reason and on the basis of suspicion? We have enough laws to deal with terrorists and there is no need for a special law. Having such laws have never done the country any good and in the long run it's the innocent who suffer," said the professor.
An Intelligence Bureau official agrees with Sahay. Pointing out that the situation in Kashmir is better today, he said that the tight vigil along the borders has managed to keep a check on infiltration to a large extent and only stray incidents are reported.
"We cannot say that the problem is completely resolved and the group to watch out is the Lashkar. Today, they realise that infiltrating through the Pakistan border poses a problem and hence have been trying to infiltrate from the Bangladesh border," he said.
According to the IB official, there's a lot of movement inside the county and the LeT is attempting to recruit Indian youths for the Kashmir 'battle'. Looking at this scenario it would be foolish to withdraw these laws in totality. It needs to be done in a phased manner with a lot of care, he said.