Armed forced Special powers Act (1958) is indeed a draconian law given its ramifications in any conflict zone of India. Manipur’s Irom Sharmila was on a hunger strike for 16 long years but the state never respected the protest by her and ultimately Irom called off her strike on August 9,2016 and is planning to join mainstream politics to change the system.
She is being advised not to give up her hunger strike and even threatened by extremists of dire consequences. AFSPA has literally became a state agency of exploitation right from Kashmir to Manipur putting women at extreme risk of rape, molestation and even murder.
Tripura’s Manik Sarkar government’s decision on revoking AFSPA recently was much hailed in public and intellectual circles however, the ripple effect as expected was the fresh revival of the incessant demand for revocation of AF(JK)SPA in Jammu and Kashmir. While it was argued that the much hyped, much maligned and controversial law in Tripura was revoked through a consistent effort by the State government on the basis of decrease in militancy (violence) related incidents, it is now expected by masses in Kashmir that such a positive development should pave way for Mehbooba Mufti led PDP-BJP coalition government to get the law repealed either fully or partially at least from the less or no vulnerable areas. For impact assessment the key questions that arise are how often AFSPA has been used by Armed Forces as a shield against violation of Human Rights and other aberrations, or is it the excessive politicization of the issue in the State by the mainstream as well as the separatist ideologies which keeps AFSPA tussle always fresh and benefits both and lastly why is it that people still view AFSPA through the prism of past and as a symbol of constant oppression? It will not be wrong to maintain that irrespective of the merits and demerits of AFSPA, the act has been highly politicized and therefore perceived as a draconian law. Perhaps the Centre and the Armed Forces have not done enough to explain the real essence of the act or the fact that despite the act in place, what measures have been adopted to ensure that there is no misuse of the act. Army time and again says that over 97% of the allegations made against them have turned out to be false and action has been taken against those who erred, however there has been no proactive effort to substantiate these claims and trust deficit and sustained enemy perception among masses have also played a disastrous role thereby sustaining confusion and distrust. Contrary to this, adding fuel to the fire, the Defence Ministry finds it proper to blatantly opine that the law is a must if army has to operate in the State. Partially due to the lack of communication and partially due to past acts of omission and commission or excessive politicization, tremendous trust deficit has been generated between the people and the security apparatus which should be addressed on priority. This perceptual difference particularly conflicting views on AFSPA negate all other people friendly efforts of the army undertaken to bridge the army civilian dichotomous. As peace permeates through the minds of the people, the demand for dividends of peace including scrapping of the law, even if partially, as yet another people friendly step, is increasing.
Mass Anger against AFSPA
People friendly voices also opine that AFSPA revocation should find space in Prime Minister’s promise of deliveringInsaniyat (humanity) and Jamhooriyat (democracy) in the State of Jammu and Kashmir. However, security experts maintain that before analyzing the arguments and counter arguments, it will be proper to take a look at the similar contemporary provisions existing in other countries besides ground realities where insurgency undoubtedly has come down and active militancy has declined considerably but the intensity of threats across the border and terror machine has remained constant. Having seen the provisions adopted by various countries for dealing with insurgency, it will be apt to analyze the views of Army on AFSPA and its repeal. Army somewhat seems to believe that AFSPA is neither as draconian as it has been made to look nor it has been used in the manner as it is projected. Any excesses that may have taken place in the past have been verified and actions against erring personnel have been taken as per the law of the land. However, for reasons of empowerment, morale and fear of excessive caution on part of the troops operating under life threatening conditions, such a provision is important. While forces believe that to check misuse of the powers bestowed on Armed Forces, there are do’s and don’ts, the Army Chief’s ten commandments and force ethos that various levels of headquarters have enforced and there is no question of any violations, however, in the chaos ridden valley violations have occurred in the past and innocents have suffered. Moreover, if army believes that it cannot and it should not operate without the enabling act, there would be a need to build a political consensus between the State and the Centre on the needs of today’s security situation. Two elements of the nation’s executive cannot have opposite views on such a crucial provision of the security domain. Even as Kashmir reaches the stage of conflict stabilization, fresh threats loom before it in the form of the effects of the turbulent situation in Afghanistan, the entry of the Islamic State and recruitment of local youth within Kashmir.
Therefore a general opinion is held that considering the magnitude of the perceived false allegations, it will be impossible to handle the cases without having serious implications on operational efficiency and morale. However, with the rising consciousness of human rights the very language of the law is considered offensive and treated by civilians as simply against human rights. Arguments about dwindling number of active militants and counter arguments about the uncertainty of turbulence continue to occupy the mind and media space of Kashmir, however without much clarity of thought and action but just a sea of perceptions.
AFSPA Tussle: Some Questions
Why was the law enacted is not difficult to answer. From 1989 onwards Kashmir witnessed law and order collapse and the circumstances in the State turned so grave that Army had to be called in which needed enabling legal provisions like AFSPA. The question of why is it considered draconian, simply citing certain acts of excesses and mishandlings by the Armed Forces justifies the label. The question of who does it suit to label it draconian, not only all those who like to whip up the emotions of the public for their vested interests, but those who suffered under its garb. Given the labels it clearly seems that AFSPA supporters have failed to portray the act correctly. The question also arises whether the Army and the Centre has lost the perception battle on AFSPA and If so, why? We know that the main protagonist in the perception battle is Army which is pitched against host of key players like mainstream political parties and the parallel ideologies but army should never take AFSPA revocation debate like an attack. The question also arises that can a fresh perception battle be undertaken on a different set of ideas? The supporters argue that it is rather an issue of information and awareness and not a perception battle but has become a perception battle today, rather a clash of egos. While sane minds understand excess of hue and cry on AFSPA as propaganda and politicization but they equally acknowledge the people’s suffering over past 26 years amid laws like AFSPA and PSA and therefore a fresh debate is needed on the subject. Also the pressing question arises that would a fresh legislation with less offensive language pass muster, along with a fresh label? I think Army must not be averse to any such move as it is true that AFSPA employs objectionable terminology. Also the question of the Supreme Court’s Do’s and Don’ts, the SOPs of the Army incorporated in 1994 and the Force Ethos of formations? Can they be used to dilute perceptions of the law being draconian? Possibly this is a direction that could lead to acceptance. The Do’s and Don’ts enunciated by the Army, the SOP’s for conduct of operations, the Rules of Engagement of the Army and various Force Ethos that are adopted need to be clearly explained to the people which is yet to be effectively done. The Army has been traditionally shy of media and therefore partially responsible for the lack of adequate knowledge of people about information which could be game changing.
The last question is how much has the situation changed from 1990 when it was first enacted? Is it sufficient to warrant removal of the law? The issues that need to be addressed at this juncture are not AFSPA but at societal level, radicalization especially of youth needs to be curbed. At political level, a lot including rehabilitation of ex/surrendered/released/retuned militants, development of opportunities, management of education, generation of more economic infrastructure, etc, must be addressed. At diplomatic level, India must use the diplomatic channels to force its hostile neighbor to shun terror as an instrument of foreign policy. Last but not the least, resolution of Kashmir issue as such is a must for lasting peace. The State Government needs to enhance the capabilities of the Police and allied security agencies to take on the Public Order challenges. The question remains that how many times has AFSPA issue been discussed in the Unified Headquarters Meetings or Corps Group Meetings?
On the legal front, it is believed that the law was enacted based on the definition of ‘disturbed’ , thus giving security forces a mandate and enabling powers to achieve the national security objectives. There is also a feeling that such an unneeded hue and cry is for political diatribes and such a message has gone across and needs to be corrected. However, given the fact that Kashmir has already suffered for decades together sustaining peace and public relief is far more vital than political rhetoric or AFSPA in itself. Therefore, the Centre and Army must adopt a pragmatic approach towards the necessity and possibility of revocation of AFSPA from the areas where it is no more needed. We must acknowledge that any Act of this nature cannot remain in force for ever and the fallouts of the prolonged continuation of the law on the society and even on the image of the Army. Constant army-civilian trust deficit in Kashmir needs to be abridged, and that will only happen if the concerns of the people are addressed and at the moment the AFSPA issue is perhaps the biggest. Simultaneously, the real concerns of the people relate to the PSA, due to which large number of youths has been subjected to arbitrary and prolonged detention, often without trial. The state government need to take a serious view of this and at the same time needs to pursue the issue of revocation of AFSPA seriously in collaboration with the army leadership and the Centre .Amnesty international recently recommended the scrapping of the law in its report titled, “Denied: Failures in accountability for human rights violations by security force personnel in Jammu and Kashmir” calling AFSPA as the primary facilitator of impunity and stated that it does not behove a democratic country like India to have such an act in any of its parts. The perception battle exists as AFSPA has not been portrayed correctly to the people perhaps not reflected well by the forces initially and with the result is has been assumed as draconian and needs a rethink. Notwithstanding the arguments and counter-arguments on revocation of AFSPA, there is surely a need to review the Act. Perhaps enacting a new law that takes into account the past experiences, mishandlings and issues of the Army as well as the Human Rights concerns of the people, is the need of the hour.
AFSPA AND Women in Kashmir
Women have been the victims of the draconian Act in the conflict ridden Kashmir valley. On February 23, 1991, many women were raped in Kunan-Poshpora, twin villages in Kupwara district of Kashmir by soldiers. There are scores of other instances where women in Kashmir or Manipur faced humiliation in the political conflict in terms of rape, sexual humiliation and sexual torture and even killing. From the rape and murder of Manipuri girl Thangjam Manorama to the double rape and murder of Asia-Neelofar in Shopian of Kashmir are testimony to the fact that AFSPA has affected women in the country. Such a law has added to the mass alienation to a greater extent as people feel it empowers the military who commit human rights abuse. AFSPA is the main reason of dichotomy between masses and military and has time and gain being questioned by people who think it is simply a license to kill, torture, arrest and rape.
Keeping the fallouts of the prolonged continuation of the law in view, it has been time and again maintained that AFSPA in the state needs a rethink given its tenure, relevance, past human rights violations, mounting public anger, crisis mishandlings and aberrations and constant army-civilian trust deficit. Simultaneously it is being argued by masses and analysts that in case the uncertainty and chaos or violence returns, who can stop the Centre to reinstall the law again. While Home ministry seems considering reduction in possible deployment of central forces in North east states, it should not close its eyes on Kashmir and not just focus on development packages but be serious on the delivery of justice in the State.
Is Indian Democracy Dying?
The prominent journalist and editor, Shujaat Bukhari was leaving work when he and his two bodyguards were shot and killed. Suffice to say newspapers are the lifeblood of democracy and Indian administered Kashmir under the decades-long grip of a half-million strong security force has a questionable claim. Yet brave journalists, unafraid, write and sometimes pay the consequences.
Following Mr. Bukhari’s murder and the thousands attending his funeral, the security services have raided presses shutting down newspapers. The internet is not quite as easily controlled, so some have been busy updating their sites.
Since Gauari Lankesh was brutally murdered at her doorstep in September 2017, another four journalists have lost their lives. She, too, espoused views contrary to the ruling party’s current philosophy of an India aligned only with the mores of upper-caste Hindus.
Jawaharlal Nehru and Gandhi, the principal Indian leaders who fought many decades for independence would have been appalled. Gandhi protected low caste untouchables referring to them as the ‘children of god’; they are now known as Dalits. Nehru, a Brahmin by birth, was a socialist in belief. His dream was of a secular, socialist India. The latter is long over, the former under vicious attack as Muslim and Christian minorities are marginalized. In addition to journalists, three heavyweight intellectuals have been killed. All were rationalists, the Indian word for atheists.
Gandhi was assassinated less than six months after independence by a right-wing Hindu nationalist who was angry at Gandhi’s moderate attitude toward Muslims. The assassin Nathuram Godse was a member of the extreme-right Hindu Mahasabha political party, and had his roots in the paramilitary, Hindutva-promoting Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). Its militancy has led to its being banned three times: after the Gandhi assassination, during the Indira Gandhi emergency rule in the mid-1970s, and for its role in the Babri Mosque demolition. The British also found its beliefs beyond the pale and banned it during their rule.
Not only is the RSS flourishing now but it serves openly as the ideological mentor of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Together they continue to push their agenda for a Hindu India tolerating only Hindu culture or beliefs, in other words, Hindutva or Hindu hegemony.
Hindutva scholar Shridhar D. Damle confirms what is quite well known, that the RSS is now exerting its influence in academia, government and cultural organizations. The laws restricting cow slaughter are not a Narendra Modi whim. Mr. Modi joined the RSS at the age of eight, was nurtured and nourished by it, the philosophy seeping into his bones like mother’s milk; any moderation necessitated only by political considerations.
The RSS infiltration of academia is pervasive. Last year, its think tank, Prajnah Pravah, summoned 700 academics including 51 university vice-chancellors (presidents) to Delhi to attend a workshop on the importance of a Hindu narrative in higher education; just one example of influencing what can be taught. A gradual loss of academic freedom has been the frightening consequence of constant interference backed up by its militancy — frightening because dying with intellectual freedom, journalists, writers and thinkers is also Indian democracy … slowly but surely, unless the voters stand up to the RSS sharkhas (volunteers) at the next election.
Nobody knows who killed Mr. Bukhari. But when the standards have been set and a certain climate prevails, does it mean much?
US- North Korea talks: A role model for Pakistan and India?
Shahbaz Sharif — Former PM Nawaz Sharif’s younger brother, current PML-N President, Former CM of Punjab (Pakistan) and the party’s Prime Ministerial candidate for the general election — while reacting to the meeting between US President, Donald Trump and North Korean leader, Kim Jong Un, stated that India and Pakistan should seek to emulate both countries, and explore the possibility of resuming dialogue.
Tweeted Shahbaz Sharif: ‘The US and North Korea talks should be a role model for Pakistan and Indian. If they can return from their previous hostile positions of attacking each other, Pakistan and India can also resume composite dialogue,’
Shahbaz, an astute politician and a capable administrator has generally refrained from commenting on India. More so, after his elder brother, had got into trouble after his remarks on the Mumbai attacks In an interview to Dawn, the former PM had said:
‘Militant organisations are active. Call them non-state actors, should we allow them to cross the border and kill 150 people in Mumbai”.. Why can’t we complete the trial?’
Nawaz Sharif drew flak not just from the National Security Committee (which includes top civil servants and defense officials). NSC issued a statement, saying:
‘The participants observed that it was very unfortunate that the opinion arising out of either misconceptions or grievances was being presented in disregard of concrete facts and realities. The participants unanimously rejected the allegations and condemned the fallacious assertions.
Some parliamentarians of the PML-N, also said that Sharif’s remarks were ‘inappropriate’. They had to be assuaged by Shahbaz
What are the precise implications of Shahbaz’s statements at this time?
Shahbaz Sharif’s statement is significant because the Pakistan Army Chief Qamar Javed Bajwa has sought to extend an olive branch to India via his statements — though the ground situation across the LoC has not witnessed a significant change .
Shahbaz Sharif on his part is seeking to send the signal, that he is all for a better relationship with India, and this will go down well with large sections of the population in Punjab (this includes not just members of Civil Society, but the business community as well). As Chief Minister of Punjab (Pakistan), he had visited India (December 2013), and met with then PM, Dr Manmohan Singh, while also visiting his ancestral village Jatti Umrah in (Punjab, India). Shahbaz had also attended the inauguration of the Integrated Check Post at Attari in April 2012. Shahbaz has sought to strengthen people to people as well as economic ties with Indian Punjab.
In 2017, when both Punjab’s and North India was engulfed in smog, Shahbaz had also written to his counterpart in Indian Punjab, Captain Amarinder Singh, seeking a mechanism to tackle the issue of smog, as well as environmental pollution. Said Sharif, ‘..Let us join hands for securing a prosperous future for the people of our two provinces,”
At the same time, in his recent tweet, Shahbaz also raised the Kashmir issue, and does not want to appear excessively soft or a ‘sell-out’. Especially, vis-à-vis the hardliners and the military. Shahbaz Sharif had tweeted:
‘If the United States and North Korea can return from the brink of a nuclear flashpoint, there is no reason why Pakistan and India cannot do the same, beginning with a dialogue on Kashmir whose heroic people have resisted and rejected Indian occupation.
In April 2018, at a rally Shahbaz had raised the Kashmir issue, saying ‘..we will make Kashmir part of Pakistan,”
Fourth, Shahbaz wants to ensure, that the PML-N sets the agenda of the election campaign with this statement he has also ensured, that PTI will need to make its stance on ties with India clear
Mixed signals from Imran Khan
Imran Khan has so far given mixed signals, on many issues including ties with India. Khan has attacked Sharif’s for being soft on the Kashmir issue, and stated that he will be far more vocal and raise the issue on International Forums. At a rally in 2016, the Pakistan-Tehreek-E-Insaaf PTI Chief and former cricketer stated:
“Human rights are being trampled in Kashmir…And no matter what, we will support Kashmiris morally and politically.
Imran Khan also accused Sharif of having a close rapport with Modi and bartering away Pakistan’s interests in the process. The PTI Chief has also sought an enquiry into Nawaz Sharif’s ‘business interests’ in India on more than one occasion.
On the other hand on occasions, Khan has spoken about the need for improving India-Pakistan ties. Interestingly, during a visit to India in December 2015, Imran had called on Modi, and claimed to have had a constructive conversation on bilateral issues.
What is clearly evident is that Shahbaz, a consummate politician, will essentially follow his brother’s approach of wanting to improve ties with India, while not ruffling feathers with the Pakistan army. Shahbaz, also wants to send a message to both the opposition (especially the PTI) and the establishment (Pakistan military and ISI). While the message to the PTI, is that he will not allow it to set the agenda for the election. To the establishment, Shahbaz Sharif’s message is that he is ready to work with them, but will not play second fiddle.
Pakistan & India’s NSG membership: Challenges and prospects
Both the front runners of South Asia have found a new interest in becoming a part of the international non-proliferation regime. This desire was made public when both the states applied for membership in May 2016. So far both have faced disappointment and as the NSG 28th plenary meeting approaches the debate of whether there will be one winner, two winners or no winner at all, rekindles. The decision is crucial for both because they have their own set of concerns riding on this membership. Indian Prime Minister Modi has made the NSG membership the single most important foreign policy agenda for his regime while Pakistan does not want to be blocked out of the trade group by India if it becomes a member.
With the waiver India gained from NSG somehow got stuck in an illusion that this special treatment will apply to all the aspects of Indo-NSG understanding. The hope was killed when no decision was made in the 2016 plenary meeting. However India being India, did not register this clear signal. Part of its lobbying tactics was to become a part of MTCR. The agenda here was two fold: a)it wanted the support of the 34 MTCR members in NSG and; b). it wanted to help China become a part of MTCR (which it was previously rejected) so that China softens its stance on India’s NSG membership. The latter goal has not been met yet. The real problem is not India’s membership into NSG but its vision of itself as the driving force for the region, and as soon as it is able to get NSG membership, this agenda will be on top of its ‘to do list’ to block Pakistan out. If India was to play on fair lines it wouldn’t be as much of a problem. Its desire of blocking Pakistan out is clear by its insistence on a merit based approach through which it assumes Pakistan will be left out for not fulfilling the merit. What it doesn’t realize is that even to set a merit there needs to be a certain criteria for that.
Coming towards the second candidate for the membership i.e. Pakistan, it has maintained a principle stance over the membership of the trade group. If Pakistan cannot become a part of the NSG because the state is not party to NPT then the same applies to India as well and any special treatment would be nothing more than discrimination. What the international community needs to be communicated is that they it cannot have a biased approach for the state of Pakistan solely for the US and India’s strategic interests. The membership needs to be granted to both the South Asian states otherwise the asymmetry will further increase which will destabilize the peace and security of the South Asian region. Furthermore it needs to be brought into consideration that by granting membership to Pakistan, its nuclear program can be streamlined along with the rest of the recognized nuclear weapon states which will bring it under the rules and regulations of NSG. This is something the international community would want for Pakistan because apparently it has reservations regarding the safety and security of Pakistan’s nuclear program so why not bring it at par with the rest of the programs where the skepticism regarding illegal proliferation can be eradicated once and for all?
Considering the case of both the states the only rational solution which China advocates in the NSG openly is that first of all the factor of states being NPT members must not be ignored since it is an important cornerstone for NSG however if it is to be overlooked then it must be overlooked for all aspirants alike and country specific approach should not be an option. Joining NSG can solve many issues for Pakistan including its problem of energy shortage as well as financial backwardness. Such an opportunity can prove to be beneficial for Pakistan as well as to the other states of NSG because the forum can also be used for confidence building and mutual understanding of each other’s circumstances. However India would not like this to happen so easily because that means compromising the leverage it gets by becoming the front runner in South Asian politics.
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