|Maj. Gen. Afsir Karim
New Delhi: The J&K Chief Minister Omar Abdullah has been demanding the removal of Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) from certain districts of the state such as Srinagar, Budgam, Jammu and Samba.
The army and the Ministry of Defence (MoD) have opposed the removal of AFSPA on the premise that it will hamper counter-terrorist operations and will help the terrorists to evade and escape the army dragnets, although at one stage the home minister seemed to agree with the views of the chief minister of J&K because of the improved situation in the valley no decision was taken on the issue. The demand for removal of AFSPA is based on political calculations of National Conference for garnering public support, but it is not being realised by the party that the problems of insurgency in J&K are far too serious to be based on local political factors as they are related to Pakistan sponsored proxy war and not just domestic terrorism.
Armed forces are facing well trained and armed Pak-sponsored terrorist groups here and need appropriate legal protection to avoid being involved in legal hassles calculated to delay or prevent action against suspected terrorists or their hide outs. The lifting of AFSPA could hamper counter-terrorist operations and give political space to the foreign forces operating in the state to establish a firmer foothold here- which has been currently lost because of the relentless efforts of the army helped by special provisions of AFSPA.
To examine various provisions of AFSPA we should go to the roots and the genesis of the AFSPA and consider its relevance and necessity in J&K accordingly in the present circumstances. The roots of AFSPA lie in the British Indian Armed Forces (Special Powers) Ordnance, 1942, Assam Maintenance of Public Order (autonomous districts) Act, 1953, Assam Disturbed Areas Act 1955, Armed Forces (Assam & Manipur) Special Powers Act, 1958, and finally in the provisions of Armed Forced (Special Powers) Act 1958 enacted in the Northeast, later the same as enacted in J&K as the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1990.
The act gives sweeping powers to the armed forces in taking action against terrorists and their supporters in J&K, but as this affects the day to day life of the common people, a review was carried out by the Jeevan Reddy Committee that was appointed to review the provisions of AFSPA, according to the committee, it has become “a symbol of oppression, an object of hate and an instrument of discrimination and highhandedness.” This observation needs serious consideration of the government as it is pointer towards alienation of common man.
Lifting of AFSPA from most areas of J&K is, however, not a feasible preposition as the army needs certain powers and provisions to ensure establishing of effective security grids. In the prevailing circumstances there is a distinct possibility if AFSPA is lifted from the suggested areas they would once again become strongholds of terrorists neutralizing the past efforts of security forces.
The main provision of AFSPA that is a cause of concern to the people relates to the powers granted as part of Section 4 of AFSPA, to armed forces personnel of the rank of Non Commissioned Officers (NCOs) and above; under Section 4 of AFSPA, troops after giving due warning can fire upon or otherwise use force, even causing of death, on any person who is acting in contravention of any law. Moreover, troops may ‘arrest, without warrant any persons who has committed a cognizable offence or against whom reasonable suspicion exists that he has committed or is about to commit a cognizable offence’.
Under AFSPA troops can also ‘enter or search, without warrant, any premises to make any such arrest ‘stop, search and seize any vehicle or vessel reasonably suspected to be carrying any person who is a proclaimed offender, or any persons who has committed a non-cognizable offence, or a reasonable suspicion exists that he has committed or is about to commit an offence. These clauses under Section 4, give powers right down to NCOs, along with Junior Commissioned Officers (JCOs) and young officers.
The stand taken by the army to retain all the provisions is a bit rigid and there is a need for bold decisions to reduce the pressures on the common man who is in no way either involved or responsible for the disturbed conditions of J&K. However, the people of J&K must not allow sheltering of terrorists in towns or rural areas if they want AFSPA removed. As the situation is improving certain provisions of AFSPA that inconvenience common man may be modified as recommended by the Reddy Committee or after a fresh assessment.