AFSPA row: need for a collective perspective

By Syed Adfar Rashid Shah

The continuing debate and the hue and cry raised since last month over the revocation of AFSPA (in place since 1990) in Jammu & Kashmir appears to have no end. The general public has been pointlessly confused by the numerous versions and perceptions of discussion among the stakeholders be it armed forces, defence ministry, state government, main opposition party (PDP), Centre, civil society, etc. There are different perspectives even among the coalition partners, i. e., state Congress and the National Conference. There seems an indirect tussle between people, civil society, media, government and the armed forces. The pity is there is a galaxy of opinions pouring from every stakeholder and the worst is there seems a little probability of a middle ground on the issue of AFSPA revocation. After having watched the recent debate on NDTV (8.00-9.00 p. m, 30 October, 2011) on AFSPA revocation and hearing army generals, Congress politicians, NC representative, human rights activists, lawyers, students, etc, one gets an impression that everyone is trying to grind his own axe and wants his perception to prevail but the middle path is still missing and not urged by anyone. To the worst, media has created more of a mix-up by sensational headlines like Omar vs. Army, Congress against revocation, Chidambaram backs Omar, AFSPA put on hold, etc, sensationalising and creating panic. As a result of this sensationalism, so many stereotypes have been created, like army branded as saying ‘AFSPA a holy book’, Congress is backing the status quo or NC is committed for its revocation, AFSPA serves as a tool of impunity to forces, etc -- all this is a biased rhetoric.

AFSPA is not a holy book nor the instrument of impunity for armed forces as there has been a clean investigation by army barring a few cases and the culprits like Major Rehman and others have been court-martialed and thrown out, so impunity is merely a blame, holy book has not been uttered by any one so far, it is just a media creation. The fact is NC’s half votebank rests on their hollow autonomy slogan but they have never strived for it seriously. Dr Mustafa Kamal’s verbal diarrhoea or publicity stunt is out of NC’s fury over state Congress’s demand for rotational CMship and also the newly emerged discourse out of Omar’s once saying in the state assembly that Jammu and Kashmir has only acceded but not merged with the Indian Union. Kamal’s recent absurd statement that ‘army hurls grenades and Geelani hurls stones’ speaks of his myopic vision and political immaturity. He is totally ignorant of Geelani Sahib’s charisma and army’s vision, discipline and professionalism.

The question is why defence ministry and BJP are against its revocation and why K-Panel, NC, PDP, separatist camp and general public want the act to be removed, partially revoked or at least amended. After hearing the army one gets an impression that forces apprehend that once the act is revoked, the vulnerable border districts may turn safe heavens for insurgents. But that is a security maintenance issue and forces especially BSF have to look into that. Even without the act, forces can conduct operations and the praiseworthy thing is that under Lt Gen Hasnain’s command and leadership the army has already achieved zero collateral damage status even in the presence of the very act, so the revocation must not be a severe issue to Army at least.

Also I wonder when civil society talks of the act’s revocation for common masses why do they demonize the armed forces like anything, accusing them of massacres and brute violations, forgetting that military is an important institution in law and order maintenance in conflict zones. We must realize that the issues in conflict zones are mostly political, like Kashmir issue is, and redressal should be purely political and not merely anti-military measures. I feel there is a need for a holistic view on AFSPA, where it is a shield to jawans (forces) in the operations in the conflict zones, who are equally citizens of the land as we are.

Simultaneously, the apprehension is that it unduly overpowers the armed forces leading to some human rights violations. Revocation has to be defined and revisited in a functional manner keeping both the Awam and Jawan (people and soldier) in perspective as both are important and should feel secure in a conflict-hit situation. The other aspect is when there is so much of goodwill prevailing and armed forces, especially army, have started so many public friendly programmes, I don’t think that army needs the act for any brute hostilities as already they are bridging the gap between Awam and Jawan and have succeeded considerably.

At such a critical juncture, the partial revocation or amendment can act as a step forward in the peace building process in the valley. The common man’s view is too diverse on this issue; one section says that the revocation issue is a mere drama enacted by NC and Congress for votebank politics. Another section of people argues that if the Centre revokes it will give the impression of normalcy to outside world and will defeat the actual goal of accomplishing complete freedom, which most of the Kashmiris aspire for. Another aspect is that revocation will mean more accountability even to local police which has been involved in so many HR violations especially in the last year’s 117 killings. One more aspect is that AFSPA revocation will lower violence graph and hence give more space to fruitful dialogue on the Kashmir dispute which can force its main stakeholders to come to some serious decision. Another section feels that it can liberate people from mental chaos and return the lost feel of secure psyche in this troubled land. Yet another chunk of common people argue about its relevance in contemporary times, arguing that when the government itself claims that hardly few militants are operating in the valley and insurgency is zero, Army, Government, Centre – everybody in effect is trying his best to deliver good and build peace, AFSPA is like a phobia, a disappointment, an impediment to feel goodwill and peace in the state.

Politics apart, rhetoric apart, branding apart, there has to be a middle ground and basic consensus to tackle this contentious issue.