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The debate on AFSPA

Home Minister Amit Shah throws window wide open on AFSPA
12:00 AM Mar 29, 2024 IST | Arun Joshi
the debate on afspa

Union Home Minister Amit Shah has set the ball rolling for the plans in the post Article 370 abrogation for Jammu and Kashmir, and the promise of the revocation of Armed Forces Special Forces Act or AFSPA immediately got into the political discourse.


This shows importance of the issue, and the concerns that it has evoked across the territory and rest of the country. The international community too has taken cognizance of this provision that confers special powers to the armed forces in which they enjoy immunity from any judicial scrutiny and persecution for their acts of omission and commission during anti-terrorism operations or otherwise in assumed threat.


There is a situation on the ground that enabled the Home Minister to assess pros and cons, and what he stated was that the government of India would “definitely consider” the revocation of the AFSPA against the backdrop of improving situation in Jammu and Kashmir, particularly in the Valley.

Home Minister could have given any other answer but he chose to make an affirmative statement. While replying to a question of TV interviewer whether the government will consider revocation of Armed Forces Special Powers Act from Jammu and Kashmir, he said “Zaroor, hum iss par zaroor vichar carenge (Sure, sure we will consider it)”.


This statement reflected in clear terms that the Government would take a call to validate the changed realities in Kashmir – that is a sense of physical and psychological normalcy and prospects of a stable future for the place and its youth.


There is a basis for holding out such a promise. The normalcy has to be reflected in withdrawing the special laws which were introduced in the high-militancy era of 1990s. If the militancy has gone down by 70 per cent, tourists arrive in thousands, and where hosting G20 meet in Srinagar in May 2023 has become a unique selling point of transformation, it is but natural that these laws should go.


Home Minister's promises to “consider” the revocation of AFSPA has opened doors for discussions and debate in a candid fashion. It means that all points of view would be considered before taking a decision as there is a precedent when things came so close, yet remained so far.


What, however, is significant, is that this time Home Minister of the country has spoken on this issue? And, it can be safely assumed that this is going to be a sequel to the abrogation of Article 370 way back in August 2019 –nearly five years since.

These remarks can be appreciated only if the history of invocation of Disturbed Areas Act and Armed Forces Special Powers Act is known. There is no need to google it. Facts and time line is there. It was in July 1990, when the then Governor of J&K, S C Saxena declared that the entire Kashmir Valley and the areas falling within 20 Km radius of LoC in Rajouri and Poonch districts of Jammu region will be covered under these provisions.

The reasons were simple - the law and order machinery had collapsed, normal laws were found wanting in dealing with the situation that was fast turning into 24x7 nightmare and the threat of terrorism had assumed demonic dimensions. National Security was in peril. Kashmir had become an epicenter of threat to the national integrity and challenges to the national security were vast.

It was again, during the second term as Governor of the erstwhile state in August 2001, when the DAA and AFSPA were extended to the whole of  Jammu region. Barring Ladakh region, all other parts of the state of Jammu and Kashmir were covered under these extraordinary laws. It was the insistence of the BJP leadership, in particular of the then Home Minister L K Adjani that Jammu was brought under these laws.

Frequent massacres in hilly parts of Jammu, attacks on temples, bomb blasts at railway tracks, station were cited as the reasons. This was Advani’s decision that prevailed, Saxena and then Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah were unwilling partners to the decision. The people of Jammu too were surprised over this tag for their region.

Saxena was the only Governor of the erstwhile state (from 1990 to 2019) who understood Kashmir in right perspective, and ventured into areas in Srinagar down town, and Anantnag which were ominously tagged as “Jaffna” of Kashmir, showing that how dangerous the situation had become in the Valley. Later, when the relevance of AFSPA was fiercely debated, he told this Columnist; “In 1990 the situation was so grave that it was a national necessity to secure the place from terrorists and Pakistan sponsored designs on Kashmir, but given the situation no necessity can be kept in perpetuity.”

It is time for the Centre to analyze and probe role of Governors others than Saaxena and Gen. K V Krishna Rao, a true democrat- he restored the real-time democracy in 1996 against all odds. He knew who the leaders were, and who could help save Kashmir.

The Army had its own version on the issue. It believed, and perhaps believes today as well, that the AFSPA is an all-time necessity. Lt. Gen. B S Jaswal, Northern Command chief had declared that “AFSPA” was like holy book for the army, integral part of its operations. Gen. V K Singh, during his tenure as army chief, was the strongest defendant of keeping AFSPA in place in J&K. The army had its own reasons, which were convincing at times and not so convincing on other occasions. This is an irony in itself.

But the fact remains that no country wants to lose soldiers whether on borders or while fighting terrorism in the hinterland. The Indian army has made many sacrifices, which should not be judged or measured by numbers, but the way it has kept J&K free of uncounted atrocities from across the border and their agents within J&K.

Its own cantonments and camps came under assault, and they would have been handicapped in killing terrorists had they been without special powers. The army should be open to permit the real-time historians to write stories about its bravery, challenges in Kashmir, and where it accomplished almost impossible tasks, but also should be willing to hear and read where things went wrong and why. The fiction writers or half-truth tellers are no friends of anyone.

Having come this far – 34 years of AFSPA in J&K,  29 years as state and 5 years as Union Territory – Home Minister has opened a window. A lot depends on the political narrative in Kashmir, how the things will move ahead. The promises can be kept only when the atmosphere is conducive. That is a necessity. Home Minister has thrown the ball in the court of Kashmiri people and politicians, now it is to be seen how it is played.

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