Unrelenting BJP and a volatile LOC:
by Sameer Yasir
Srinagar: Following the decision of the Tripura government to revoke the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) after 18 years, similar demands are echoing in Jammu and Kashmir. The controversial law has been criticised in Jammu and Kashmir as it has been alleged many times that the legislated has been misused by armed forces involved in counter-insurgency operations on many occasions for cash rewards and promotions.
The demand has been spurred by the promise of the Peoples Democratic Party (PD)-led coalition government which, in its alliance agenda with the BJP, had promised to remove AFSPA from areas in the state which have largely remained peaceful over the last decade.
The notification to enact the AFSPA was issued by the governor of Jammu and Kashmir twice — once in 1990 and then in 2001 — declaring entire State of Jammu and Kashmir, excluding the Ladakh districts of Leh and Kargil, as “Disturbed Area.” This law was initially titled as the Armed Forces (Jammu and Kashmir) Special Powers Act, 1990. It came into force on July 5, 1990, and was notified by Governor Girish Chander Saxena’s government on July 6, when Mufti Mohammad Sayeed was the Union Home Minister.
PDP and BJP chalked out a carefully worded ‘Agenda of the Alliance’ which promised to begin the process of de-notifying areas declared as ‘disturbed’ that would eventually pave the way for the revocation of AFSPA. However, the BJP refused to give any written assurance to the PDP, and its state leaders have been vociferously opposing the demands on removing the act ever since the new government came into power on 1 March.
“If it is possible for the government in Tripura, why not Kashmir? There are also areas in Kashmir where insurgency has largely been contained. Why do you need the draconian law in Srinagar or other peaceful areas in the state,” Muzaffar Ahmad, a businessman in Lal Chowk area of Srinagar, told Firstpost.
Sheikh Showkat Hussain, who heads the law department at Central University of Kashmir, says there is a genuine demand that the law must be removed from the places where situation has improved since the law was enacted. “But the central government measures Kashmir with a different yardstick. Despite one-third of the country being under Maoist insurgency, there is no AFSPA in many such states, but it exists with other draconian laws in J&K,” he said.
“The tangible improvement in security situation in Jammu and Kashmir needs to be reciprocated with matching measures like revocation of AFSPA so that people feel change on the ground,” PDP’s chief spokesperson, Mehboob Beg, said in a statement here.
However, people’s opinion on ground is in sharp contrast with the figures. According to official figures released by Director General of Tripura Police, K Nagaraj on 4 January, 2015, only eight militancy-related incidents were registered in 2014 compared to nine such incidents in 2013 in Tripura. In Jammu and Kashmir, however, while the insurgency-related killings came down to record a low of 117 in 2012, the violence has seen an increase since. In 2013, 181 were killed and in 2014, casualties were 193 with civilian killings increasing by over 60 percent.
“The situation in last four to five years has improved because the infiltration levels on Line of Control have gone down. However, the cause of concern remains the local recruits, who are snatching weapons from security forces because of lack of external support. In this year alone, we have seen five to six weapon snatching incidents,” Syed Javaid Mujtaba Gillani, IGP Kashmir told Firstpost.
AFSPA, which exists with other controversial special laws like Disturbed Areas Act and Public Safety Act in Jammu and Kashmir, has been condemned widely for giving impunity to armed forced which has resulted in “gross human rights violations.”
The demand to repeal the act has been continuously turned down by successive governments in the Valley. Khurram Parvez, a human rights activist with Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society, said the state government is not in a position to work on its own and, instead, has to “obey the diktats” from the Centre. “The government could not safeguard the release of just one political prisoner (Masarat Alam) and had to re-arrest him after the BJP’s rebuff,” Parvez said.
Recently, after Chief Minister Mufti Sayeed called for the removal of AFSPA, the Union Defence Minister, Manohar Parrikar, is believed to have categorically told the CM that it’s only “up to the Army to decide on the case.”
The BJP’s media advisor in Kashmir, Altaf Thakur, also denied any possibility regarding the removal of the act, arguing that the militancy in Kashmir has not waned. “There have been attacks recently in Sopore and, unlike Tripura, the militant threat has not waned in Kashmir, so the act should stay,” Thakur said.