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Founding Editor view on Armed Forces Special Powers Act

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The Armed Forces Special Powers Act is once again in the news, albeit for the wrong reasons. Politics over the AFSPA continues unabatedly and as always, without any logic. The Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir has taken it upon himself to ask for its repeal from certain areas of the state that he believes are not affected by terrorist violence. This is not the first time he has taken this position and this is also not the first time he has been explained the true picture of the situation.

Facts have been laid bare before him, as they will be every time he brings up this issue. The truce, when it happens, will be temporary for he is wont to raise the matter again. For that is the nature of politics and since that is the guiding principle behind his campaign to have AFSPA lifted from parts of the state. Things are not so simple, but before that some basics about the Act need to be understood.

The AFSPA is not a provision for the armed forces of India to run riot in affected parts of the country. It never was, and it never will be for the simple reason that the armed forces are not interested in running riot. And neither are they interested in being in an insurgency situation in perpetuity. It is only because the circumstances of an insurgency force them into such operations that they are deployed in affected areas. If there weren’t an insurgency the armed forces would not be there. But for that politics and administration would have to be so geared up that insurgencies don’t happen. For they are the principal reasons why people take up arms against the state. Those are issues that are conveniently glossed over by the practitioners of politics, of course. All that the AFSPA does is to provide an administrative, legal mechanism under which the army operates in an insurgency. The absence of an AFSPA was felt by the parliamentarians of yesteryears and hence its promulgation. It is simply an enabling mechanism for the army to operate in aid to civil authority; otherwise the constitution does not permit such operations. The AFSPA was promulgated to fill this legal lacuna.

To believe that some parts of the state are peaceful and hence AFSPA can be lifted is to live in a world of disbelief. The areas of peace are always a welcome development, but they do not exist in isolation. It is the success of the security forces that has created this situation. There is always a chance that militants, under sustained pressure elsewhere, could well turn to these islands of peace so as to divert attention. So does the promulgation happen all over again? The process would give enough time for militants to dig in before operations begin against them. And all the gains would have lost. The effort required would then be double of what it is today. But these are scant considerations in the game of politics, which has been the principal cause of insurgency in Jammu and Kashmir. Army authorities have been convincing in their argument against repealing AFSPA and politicians must accept when they are tilting against windmills for the sake of a wind.


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