Incoherent debates and blatant politicisation of AFSPA
by Jaibans Singh on 02 Jun 2013 5 Comments

Here we go again, back to the tedious debate on the status of the armed forces special powers act (AFSPA) in Jammu and Kashmir. The ball has been set rolling, this time by Prof. Saifuddin Soz, Congress chief of Jammu and Kashmir. During an interaction with media on May 27, he said the time for deliberations on the revocation of AFSPA is over and now the act needs to be lifted from some areas without politicizing the issue. He added, for good measure, that Chief Minister Omar Abdullah should take up the issue of revocation of the act in a unified command headquarters meeting.


Naturally, Omar Abdullah was overjoyed at this turn of events. Laying of the foundation stone of the Central University in Kashmir on May 29, he used the opportunity to play up the statement in a manner befitting a seasoned politician. He said that initially the state Congress chief had certain reservations over the issue but now, “there is a change and that will definitely be a support in Delhi.”


The Chief Minister did not realise that even as he was making this sales pitch, Soz was busy retracting his statement, claiming he was “misquoted” and that all he wanted to say was that Omar Abdullah should take “all stakeholders” and particularly the security forces on board while trying to make progress in the matter.


There can be no doubt that the entire drama was played out with the 2014 elections in mind. But what were the involved parties trying to gain by raking up the issue the way they did. A seasoned politician like Saifuddin Soz would not speak without a game plan in mind. So why did he say what he said? And having said that, why did he retract with such alacrity?


The logical answer to the first question would be that he was testing the waters by setting the proverbial cat amongst the pigeons. As a corollary, a logical answer to the second question would be that he got an overwhelmingly negative response from his party cadre and chose to retreat in the shortest possible time. This proves that the rank and file of the Congress party in Jammu and Kashmir is against any attempt to revoke AFSPA from the state, even partially, at this point in time. The feeling is so strong that even initiation of a political debate on the subject is not acceptable to them.


Coming back to Omar Abdullah, he made a valiant attempt to get as much political mileage from the matter as possible. He implied that the change in the Congress position and its tilt towards his line of thinking was the result of a deliberate policy shift on the subject in concert with the centre. The subsequent happenings in the Congress camp have, of course, put paid to this belief.


Both leaders insisted the matter should not be politicised. Even a novice would understand that what they were blatantly politicising the issue with forthcoming elections in mind. Leaders like Omar Abdullah and Saifuddin Soz understand very well that a decision for revocation of AFSPA or any such legislation would flow from the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) only after taking Parliament in confidence. Besides, a number of army chiefs, on a number of occasions, have categorically said that invocation or revocation of the act is essentially a political decision. Soz and Abdullah know that they should be approaching the CCS and not the unified command with their demands. Yet, they have no compunction in implying, consistently, that it is the army which is coming in the way of revocation of the act. If this is not politics, what is?


The manner in which the anti-Naxal operations are unfolding needs to be kept in mind while discussing security issues in Jammu and Kashmir. Operations in Naxal areas are suffering because of lack of coordination between the state and the centre, lack of training and strength of security forces, lack of coordination between the forces deployed for operations and, above all, lack of proper legislation that would fully empower the forces that are fighting the battle.


Revocation of AFSPA from Jammu and Kashmir will lead to a situation exactly on the lines of what is prevalent in Naxal-hit areas. The unified command will be dismantled leading to lack of coordination between the central and state forces. One does not doubt the courage and commitment of the state police forces, but even a cursory look at the organisation indicates that it does not have the strength, equipment and training to conduct law and order as well as internal security functions all by itself.


Naxals concentrate in a target area to launch an operation and then flee into the jungles of a neighbouring state where a different security set up exists; If partial revocation of AFSPA is brought into play, terrorists will concentrate in their target areas, create mayhem and go into hideouts in areas where AFSPA has been revoked. The security forces with different jurisdictions will not be able to assist each other. This will seriously degrade the present coordinated operations. Army personnel, without proper legislative safeguards, will not be willing to venture into the police domain.


Terrorism will get an opportunity to raise its ugly head once again if AFSPA is removed or revoked without proper thought and application of mind. Does Jammu and Kashmir, after having attained a fair degree of security from terrorism in recent years, wish to revisit the dark years all over again simply to satisfy the political ambitions of a select few? It is for the people of Jammu and Kashmir to decide. In case they want peace they should stop such incoherent debates and blatant politicisation of AFSPA.

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