Revoking AFSPA would be a folly
As long as Pakistan continues to support terror activities in India, there is no way the government can withdraw AFSPA from Kashmir
The new phase of violence that has swept Kashmir once again highlights the fact that the overall situation remains on knife’s edge. Militants disguised as cricketers killed five paramilitary troopers after sneaking into a CRPF camp adjoining a school in Bemina area of Srinagar. As many as 18 people including 15 CRPF jawans and three civilians were also injured in the attack. The horrendous attack on the CRPF camp, which is the first major attack after a virtual lull of three years, proves yet again that terrorists continue to pose serious threat to the lives and liberty of people in the Valley. Painting a rosy picture with officially provided figures will not do. And it is a grim reminder that the threat of terrorism hasn’t gone away which requires that we remain on guard.
Indeed, in recent days the Valley has been in a state of turmoil first over the hanging of Parliament accused Afzal Guru and then the killing of a young man during a demonstration in Baramulla. In fact, the attack was carried out on a day Kashmiri separatist groups in the Valley had called for a shutdown demanding the return of the body of Afzal Guru, who was hanged and subsequently buried in Delhi’s Tihar Jail for his role in the 2001 terrorist attack on Parliament. It needs to be mentioned that separatism has a very long history in Kashmir and lies simmering under the surface. Despite the yearning for some governance, manifested in the people’s participation in elections, underlying tensions need but a spark to make a conflagration be it over the Pathribal case or an incident like the current one. So Afzal Guru’s execution is nothing more than another opportunity for militant groups to keep Kashmir on the boil. The recent unfortunate incident has been part of the pattern in the Valley involving anti-national forces. They have always tried to exploit every development to promote their nefarious designs and Afzal Guru’s hanging has given them a handle to hit the headlines. It is in this context that hardline separatist elements have been calling for bandhs to make their presence felt. In fact the hartal in the Valley on Wednesday was on account of Union Home Minister Shushilkumar Shinde’s rejection of demands for exhuming Afzal’s body to hand over to his family.
While the recent incidents leave no one in doubt about the volatile situation in the Valley, the suicide attack brings into sharp focus the debate on AFSPA. Though the security agencies and armed forces strongly oppose the repel of the Act from the Valley, the politicians including J&K Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, oddly enough, want to replace it with an Act that empowers the state police with draconian powers. So the back and forth on AFSPA continues even as violence aided and abetted by elements across the border threatens to make a comeback.
Across the political spectrum in the Valley, there is a demand to scrap the Armed Forces Special Powers Act. But there is nothing wrong with the Act which has been enforced in certain states to protect the sovereignty of the country. The Supreme Court issued comprehensive instructions for the implementation of the Act and the Army must strictly follow the dos and don’ts. In fact leader of opposition Sushma Swaraj said that the attack was one more reminder of the futility of the demands to withdraw the AFSPA from Kashmir. “It is an unfortunate coincidence that the incident happened at a place from where AFSPA demanded to be withdrawn, say we must not take decisions on emotions but see the ground realities”, she is reported to have said.
The truth is that as long as Pakistan continues to support terror activities in India, there is no way the government can withdraw AFSPA from Kashmir. But J&K Chief Minister, oddly enough, indulges in politicising internal security issues every time he is cornered by political opponents. Some time back he publicly declared that the Act would be withdrawn from selected districts of Kashmir. This only shows that he is dreaming of an ideal solution to a complicated issue. In fact nobody is willing to admit that it is AFSPA that helps Omar Abdullah maintain a semblance of authority in Kashmir. His vociferous demands to revoke it seem in all probability to be a ruse to pacify militants and may not be based on the security considerations of his government. He seems to be oblivious to the fact that lifting AFSPA will not help the government solve the Kashmir problem but will only complicate the security situation due to the simple reason that Pakistan wants to keep the issue alive.
The Indian Army has time and again strongly opposed the repeal of AFSPA due to the simple logic that revoking the Act from selected areas would create safe heavens within the Kashmir Valley to which jehadi terrorists and their Kashmiri accomplices can seek refuge after attacks. But armchair activists more prone to be afflicted with biased vision can never appreciate inherent handicaps of security forces who perform patriotic duties amid heavy odds. Having said that, repealing AFSPA will demoralise the armed forces fighting insurgency. It will give terrorists the upper hand. In fact, the armed forces should be empowered further to tackle insurgency more effectively.
India is actually soft while dealing with militants, terrorists and Pakistan. While fighting insurgents in Balochistan, Pakistan used helicopters, but New Delhi reacts to violence in Kashmir with minimum force. The directions of the J&K government to the CRPF not to carry weapons while dealing with mobs is highly suicidal, as is evident from the merciless killing of five CRPF jawans who were cannon fodder for the terrorists on a killing spree. Had these jawans been armed with weapons, the situation would have been otherwise. Such a pointless order by the state government is likely to demoralise the security personnel in the Valley. The Centre should intervene and ask the state government to withdraw this order to avoid a repeat of such incidents. As such, vulnerable security forces can’t be exposed to conspirational whims and fancies of terrorists and their overt and covert patrons in various cross sections of society and political governance. It is ironical that they are advocating lifting of AFSPA, and the poor soldiers are not even allowed to use weapons. Is it any wonder then that such incidents occur?
While the issue of AFSPA, which many want revoked can be debated, the real issue is that Pakistan will continue to play its deadly games in the Valley as is clear from its brazen adoption of a resolution in its National Assembly condemning Parliament attack convict Afzal Guru’s hanging and demanding the return of his body to the family. Besides, the recent incidents in the turbulent state show that it is slipping into chaos and lawlessness. JKLF chairman Yasin Malik recently visited Pakistan with the full blessings of the Indian government and hobnobbed with Hafiz Saeed. It is not clear why the Union government is still handling the anti-national elements in the Valley with kid gloves. It is time for India to get tough with terrorists and their supporters.
By Sunita Vakil