Some thoughts on AFSPA
Again, the time is come to talk about the AFSPA and again, the rhetoric is the same on all sides. Another classic Indian stalemate.
Omar Abdullah has taken on himself to get the AFSPA revoked from some parts of Kashmir at least, and wants the Army to give him options other than “No”.
The Army, on its part is adamant that revoking the AFSPA will be the equivalent of giving terrorists free rein – a claim that is scoffed by people who want the AFSPA revoked, but a claim extremely likely to be true by the estimates of many people well-versed with counter-insurgency operations.
Human rights advocates persistently point out abuses by the Army as a reason to revoke the AFSPA, conveniently measuring human rights by the standards of a secure region and protests by the standards of a disputed region. They also consistently ignore that the larger number of human rights abuses is by militants which is possible to get higher with revocation of AFSPA. The stand here seems to be anti-state in the name of human rights rather than a well-considered focus on human rights, which could have created suggestions with better possibilities to work, since this group is credible in the eyes of both state and people.
Kashmiris themselves have diverse objectives, and no single perspective can be considered as representative of all.
Considering all these voices and their multiple desired outcomes, it remains important to identify areas all can agree on and consolidate those.
One such area is human rights. Whether the Army needs AFSPA or not, every side of this debate agrees that civilians have rights and they must be respected. There clearly needs to be reform that allows regular proscecution of soldiers engaging in human rights abuse. Rape, extra-judicial killings and such cannot be called counter-insurgency, and there needs to be a divorce from the concept of all pervading exemption from prosecution.
The Army claims to have suspended several of the accused, and it is a good beginning, but really a suspension is irrelevant. It is an Army matter on whether the soldier’s behavior is acceptable in service or not. It cannot be considered justice for a rape or murder. In my view, the punishment for these should be the same as for any other rapist or murderer and from a civil court, unless the Army thinks it covers rapes and extra judicial killings as a part of the job description. Whether existing law provides for this or if it should be amended or a new law created, I don’t know, but this is important.
Understandably there is concern over soldiers being framed, and the Army can and should provide competent lawyers if they believe a soldier is being framed, but keeping non-counter-insurgency harm to civilians out of the jurisdiction of civil courts leaves them with no recourse. The Army cannot live in a place and flaunt its laws too!
At the same time, the separatists need to tone down the rhetoric a lot, if they expect their concerns to be taken seriously. The story of victimization may be true, but as a story of a special victimization of Kashmir, it doesn’t wash. Human rights abuse is very common all over India and indeed South Asia at the very least. If they imagine Pakistan, China or even an independent Kashmir would be any better, they need to get a dose of reality here. It needs fought and it needs fixed, yes, but is it a Kashmir special? Only if you know no other place than Kashmir, and no other logic than brainwash.
Black Humor Break:
Human rights abuse in Kashmir by the state should be considered as the true sign that the state considers Kashmiris their own. See how Baba Ramdev was attacked in the capital of the country. A Hindu, Brahmin, no less. We do it everywhere. Protest anything, and you get squashed. That is how India treats dissent. You are perfectly Indian, not to worry.
End Black Humor
It also isn’t an Army speciality. False encounters have been done by police and militants. Rapes have been done by absolutely every occupation man has known in far greater proportion than our Army. Read news of cops, for example. So revoking the AFSPA may not be the miracle cure it is advertized as.
On the other hand, militancy being the reason for Army presence is wearing thin. It is Pakistan’s stated policy to promote cross border terrorism. The Army itself reports camps in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir being intact, routine infiltrations and cover fire from Pakistani posts. There is absolutely no indication that Pakistan will change its mind over this. Ever. In fact, Hafiz Saeed & Co are openly advocating more mayhem in recent days. This can be considered a permanent feature of having Pakistan for a neighbour. “Can we consider an Army in civilian areas a permanent feature?” – is the question.
While we are impacted by Pakistani actions, we are not responsible for them. We are responsible for our actions. And choosing indefinite Army control for a region doesn’t seem to be one of our brighter ideas.
The Army’s concern about pockets of militancy seems valid and makes complete sense and is not something that should be taken lightly – particularly by those who claim an interest in human rights and safety.
So there needs to be another way. And it cannot be military, it needs to be political and administrative. There needs to be some kind of plan for handing over control of the region to local police – including counter-insurgency. Possibly a specialist police force or strengthening an existing one. That might mean training, equipment, etc. With the intention that the Army will not be expected to come in and fight fires that get lit once it exits civilian areas. When this is done, it will become safe to revoke the AFSPA.
Lack of insurgency alone cannot be enough as Omar Abdullah seems to be thinking, because without the capacity with local forces, the revoking of the AFSPA will indeed be an invitation to militants in that case. If that happens, the Army will have to be back too and we’ll have this same debate over and over.
This should be planned well and in terms of a permanent administrative solution in a sensitive area.
There will need to be provisions for the Army supply routes and transit bases and the rights of the soldiers to their protection by the local forces outside camp/convoy perimeters and themselves inside. There will obviously need to be the provision to repel attacks and give immediate chase to perpetrators – AFSPA or not. There will be border areas under the control of the Army. There will obviously need to be interfaces between local forces and Army…
It could prove to be a much welcome image boost for both politicians and Army. It will be much needed relief for soldiers from the stress of living with an unseen enemy among civilians. It will be a big breather for civilians to be secured by a machinery they can challenge if wronged. Also, police in general have far more of their role geared to dealing with civilian problems. The Army simply are not geared for that the way cops are. AFSPA isn’t the only gap in function.
But yes, getting the Army out of the hair of civilians one way or the other, is an important goal to take up. The Army cannot be turned into an administrative solution. Nor can the actions of a neighbouring country be considered adequate reason for permanent Army control in our own.