AFSPA: Beyond The Storm In The Teacup

By Firdaus Ahmed

Omar Abdullah’s hint that the ‘disturbed areas’ status of some areas in J&K may be revoked prior to the Darbar’s move to Jammu, made for a heated Diwali for Kashmir in more ways than one. While the controversy was for its withdrawal, the grenade blasts seemed to suggest that it was still needed.

The decision being preserve of the Union home ministry, the state government and the army can at best input the decision. Press reports have it that the decision has been referred to the Cabinet Committee on Security since the defence ministry has transmitted the army’s negative take. Superficially, the issue appears to be one of divergence on strategy, on whether it is the right juncture to contemplate roll back of AFSPA. The less visible issue is one of civil control over the military.

The good news is that there appears to be a strategy in place. This is evident from the million footfalls of tourists this summer. It can be inferred that strategy would have contemplated a decision point at the end of the peaceful summer. The consideration would have been whether this is time for transition to a political dominant strategy, as against the military template applied so far. A strategy such as this would mandate using the recommendations in the interlocutors’ report with a symbolic tweaking of the very visible AFSPA as an entry point towards a political solution.

In the present case, it is evident the army is not onboard. The army’s input can only be one of many and not necessarily the most significant. Intelligence input is equally significant. Second, its apprehensions of reversion neglect the other instruments the government has for tackling any consequence, including an assertive police. Third, the Supreme Court judgment in the Nagaland case mandates review for removing areas where the security situation enables it being removed from the ‘disturbed area’ list.  This is the case for most of J&K outside the Valley. Fourth, the military has organizational interests that inform its position, better appreciated by those on the outside.

Last and more importantly, revoking is part of the political dimension of strategy. Even if the army is right on the situation as not permissive for this, political initiative can help alleviate the situation. This is outside the military’s purview. In other words, the military can have a point, but not the whole point. Despite knowledge of its limitations on these scores, it begs the question why the army chooses to input otherwise.  This is where civil control over the military kicks in. The accountability vacuum makes this so. The Supreme Court’s ruling on the AFSPA has it that the state government at best need only be consulted. The buck therefore stops at the Centre. The problem is that here the lines of authority are blurred. The Union home ministry has the responsibility without authority over the army, while the Union defence ministry has authority without accountability. In effect, the army ends up virtually commanding veto power.

The statistic that the central government has not granted permission for prosecution under section 7 of the AFSPA in Kashmir despite receiving 30 such requests reinforces impression of civilian reticence. The gains made in Kashmir through development and democracy owe as much to civilian effort as to military sacrifice. This is the right juncture for self-confident assertion over the policy sphere.

The military is only as much part of the solution as much as it is seen as part of the problem in Kashmir. It has been a self-interested player in Kashmir, even if perhaps the most altruistic one of the several enmeshed there. It is a political function to appreciate this, one it is time to exercise. If only symbolically, the AFSPA could be rolled back, if not in the Valley then certainly from elsewhere in the state.   

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 16-30 November 2011 on page no. 11

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