The Indian Army has opposed any move to withdraw the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) from the 'peaceful' parts of the Indian-administered Kashmir, arguing that the current lull in violence could be deceptive.
There are around 500,000 Indian troops in Kashmir
Recently, Indian-administered Kashmir's Chief Minister Omar Abdullah spoke in favor of the partial repeal of the controversial AFSPA. The war of words between the army and the state government intensified after Mr. Abdullah criticized the armed forces for raising objections over the lifting of the AFSPA from areas which are considered relatively peaceful.
"We don't intend to withdraw the AFSPA in areas where the army is still needed to fight the militants. Why do they want it even in areas where they don't operate?" asked Abdullah.
'No islands of peace'
Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah
Army generals, on the other hand, have vehemently opposed the AFSPA’s revocation, arguing that the withdrawal of the law from some areas would hamper counter-insurgency efforts in the state. "There cannot be islands of peace," said senior army commanders on Wednesday in the state capital Srinagar at the meeting of the Unified Command, the top decision-making body on security issues in the state.
"We have a situation which has now persisted for more than 20 years. The military requires the provisions that enable it to act. Without these provisions, the army will be handicapped," remarked Lt. Gen. K.T. Parnaik.
The AFSPA gives the armed forces incredible powers to shoot, arrest and search in the name of aiding the civilian government. The law was first used in the north-eastern states of Assam and Manipur, and was amended in 1972 and extended to all seven states in the north-east of India. The law was extended to Jammu and Kashmir in 1990 when an armed insurgency broke out in the state.
Rights groups accuse the Indian army of grave human rights abuses
The number of Indian troops in Indian-administered Kashmir is estimated to be around 500,000. Rights activists have in the past accused the troops, deployed in the far-flung areas of the state, of widespread human rights abuses and unlawful killings under the AFSPA. Certain provisions of the law give immunity to the armed forces, stating that no legal measure can be taken against any member of the military acting under the AFSPA without the permission of the central government.
New York-based Human Rights Watch says the AFSPA is a tool of oppression and discrimination.
An opportune time for withdrawal?
Of the 22 districts in the state, the AFSPA is functional in 20. Leh and Kargil are the only districts where the law is not in force.
The violence has dropped dramatically in Jammu and Kashmir this year to the lowest levels since the start of the insurgency.
Political analyst Bashir Manzar, editor of Kashmir Images, a popular Kashmiri daily, is of the opinion that the Kashmiri people must be allowed to benefit from the relatively peaceful situation in the state.
Author: Murali Krishnan
Editor: Sarah Berning