The preoccupation of Kashmiri politics with the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) is attaining rather exasperating dimensions. Somehow, all issues that come into media limelight are twisted and turned to get back to discussing the revocation or otherwise of the AFSPA. Recently, the Valley has been in the throes of an incident of firing by the CISF on protestors at Boniyar in the Kashmir Valley, which led to the unfortunate death of a 21 year old student. The sequence of events which led to the incident are quite opaque even as a Magisterial probe is in progress; yet, the Armed Forces have been put on the political dock and resounding demands for revocation of AFSPA are being made by all and sundry. The fact that CISF does not come under the purview of the AFSPA and has, as yet, not been implicated in any form whatsoever is being conveniently sidelined if not totally ignored by the cacophony of stringent voices.
There are many similar instances where AFSPA has been subjected to a debate in the media domain on the basis of incidents. In November, 04, 2011, when the Pathribal incident came up for hearing in the Supreme Court, the media termed it as a defining moment in the debate on the AFSPA. Ultimately, the Court adjourned the hearing to December, 16, so as to give time to the government to resolve issues between its two arms, the Army and the CBI. Not much is known about the progress of the case beyond that point; it seems to have slipped out of media focus now that a new flogging horse in the form of the Boniyar incident has been found.
As it is, the Army is being prejudged and implicated in the Pathribal case in a manner that defies logic and understanding. There exists irrefutable evidence about the joint nature of the said operation with the JK Police playing a dominant role. The operation was launched on the basis of specific information provided by the JK Police whose personnel pointed out to the Army the house in which terrorists were said to be hiding. The Army then launched the attack and in the process the alleged terrorists were killed. The JK Police was quite forthcoming in taking the credit till such time that reports of civilians having been abducted and killed came up and it staged the proverbial disappearing act leaving the Army to face the flak. Presently, the apex Court of the country is seized with the issue and yet it is being flogged by vested interests to further their agenda against the AFSPA.
Policies should neither be evolved nor changed on the basis of incidents. They should be the product of intense thought and objective action by those entrusted with great responsibility. Those who formulated, legislated and imposed AFSPA in Jammu and Kashmir did so with utmost deliberation. Its continuance and future also needs to be decided with similar deliberation at the appropriate level and, most importantly, outside the media glare. Responsible leaders and government officials need to sit together and discuss the matter threadbare to reach to a sound decision. The matter should be pushed into the media domain only after a comprehensive and consensual policy has been evolved. To fight personal wars through the media on a sensitive subject does not help the cause of the Nation.
Earlier, there have been instances when such discussions have been held. The highest echelons of the National Human Rights Commission, the intelligence services of the country, the top hierarchy of the Indian Army and adequate representatives of the State bureaucracy and leadership have, on several occasions, joined together to ponder the issue of security and AFSPA. It was in such meetings that the decision to continue with the AFSPA and, in fact, extend it to the rest of the State was taken. Now, a similar exercise is once again called for . Any amount of options and modification can be discussed but at the end of it all there has to be consensus which is respected by all parties. This constitutes a mature and correct method to address any issue related to national security.
Any discussion on the subject needs to take into account the geo-strategic challenges which this frontier region is likely to face so long as an inimical environment exists in its neighbourhood. Of course, ways and means can be found to ensure that the inconvenience to the people is minimised and at the same time the safe guards necessary to protect the security forces are kept in place. This may not be easy, but it is not entirely impossible. Other Nations are also going through a similar process of transformation in their security paradigm.
Kashmir is today standing on a cross road, the region is coming on its own after decades of debilitating terrorism contained with herculean effort and great personal loss of the very security forces which are being vilified today. The emerging environment is throwing up many socio-economic, political, religious and other challenges to the people, especially the youth, who now have a lot of catching up to do with their contemporaries at the national level. The people and the system need to look towards the future and the future can be bright only if it is secure. Any amount of sacrifice that is required to be made for security should be accepted because this is an essential precursor to progress in a region that faces threats from inimical forces and vested interests. The Army and AFSPA are, by no means, hampering progress in the Valley. In fact, they are partners in the region’s quest for a better tomorrow. It would, therefore, be beneficial to all concerned to understand and respect the role of the security forces along the path of unhindered peace and prosperity.