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Of AFSPA and Women in Kashmir: A Perspective

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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 While it was argued that the much hyped, much maligned and controversial law in Tripura was revoked through a consistent effort by the State government on the basis of decrease in militancy (violence) related incidents, it is now expected by masses in Kashmir that such a positive development should pave way for Mehbooba Mufti led PDP-BJP coalition government to get the law repealed either fully or partially at least from the less or no vulnerable areas.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.

Last Word

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.

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South Asia

India’s Continuing Arrogance in Kashmir

Haris Bilal Malik

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On October 31, 2019, India formally split up the Muslim-majority region of Jammu and Kashmir into two federal (union) territories. By doing so India violated the UNSC resolutions on the matter and officially issued a new political map indicating Ladakh and Jammu as Indian Union Territories. According to this formal split,both the Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh union territories will be administered by two lieutenant governors, Girish Chandra Murmu and Radha Krishna Mathur respectively. They are supposed to report to the Indian home secretary based in New Delhi. This clearly defines the motives of the Hindu nationalist government of BJP led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi which revoked Article 370 on August 5.Unfortunately, the prevalent security environment in Kashmir is dominated by the BJP, which has led India’s arrogance to determine the fate of the disputed region.

In the same vein, right before the formal enforcement of the constitutional split, a local body electoral exercise was carried out in the region. The maiden Block Development Council (BDC) Election was held on October 24 under much hype due to the evolved dynamics of the region. However, the region’s main parties such as the National Conference, Peoples Democratic Party, and Peoples Conference and other small parties had boycotted the local elections terming them as an ‘undemocratic’ exercise. These parties which have remained the major stakeholders in the politics of the region had turned out against the abrogation of Article 370 that granted the region special rights. It was also observed that the political parties had perceived this election as instead a “forced election” primarily because the region was still then under severe restrictions. Contrary to this general perception, the Indian government still carried out the post-revocation electoral exercise. This arrogant policy adopted by the Indian government seems to forcefully instill this notion of ‘our plan our vision’ by the BJP to decide the fate of the Kashmir region.

In addition to this notion, the Hindu-supremacist government of India, headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been shamelessly flaunting the narrative that Kashmir has been ‘put in its place’. This means that contrary to the previous position of the Kashmir region as an autonomous entity under the Indian Union, it has been demoted to now being a ‘union territory’ like other union territories under the federal (Union) government of India. By doing so it seems that India is following a dangerous trajectory of dealing with Kashmir vis-à-vis Pakistan and the international community. In pursuit of its fascist vision inspired by its RSS ideology, the BJP led Indian state has blatantly ignored the global implications which its moves could have regarding the disputed region. Moreover, the ongoing crisis also provides an insight into Kashmir being a victim of the so-called rules based international order that has repeatedly failed to shield the Kashmiri people from the human rights violations of the Indian forces and protect their sovereign will.

It is worth mentioning here that Kashmir is one of the oldest issues pending at the UNSC table. The international community acknowledges Pakistan’s significance as the most important stakeholder vis-à-vis any development on the Kashmir issue. Contrary to Indian moves and suppression of Kashmiris, Pakistan has always insisted on the peaceful settlement of the Kashmir dispute under the UN mandate. Moreover, Pakistan has always encouraged international mediation offers from influential countries especially by the U.S. This was evident during Prime Minister Imran Khan’s first-ever visit to the US on July 23, 2019, when President Trump had offered to mediate  between India and Pakistan. The offer was greatly appreciated by Pakistan as it was aimed at some prospect of seeking a settlement given the evolved security dynamics of the South Asian region for the last few months. Whereas, India has often rejected such offers claiming Kashmir as its internal matter.

As evident from the above-mentioned developments, it seems that India aspires to increasingly project itself as a regional hegemon and as a potential superpower that can do whatever it pleases with a complete disregard for basic human rights. Under this notion, the BJP government led by Prime Minister Modi and inspired by Hindutva ideology is taking offensive measures to forcefully make Kashmir an integral part of India via its brutal political and military actions. The most considerable aspect of such belligerence is that India wrongfully perceives that Pakistan is unlikely to or perhaps unwilling respond to any Indian move based on certain political, economic and strategic restraints vis-à-vis India. This however is once again a grave underestimation of Pakistan’s resolve and the sensitivity with which such moves are being taken by the Pakistani leadership.

Hence at the present, the rash and irresponsible actions of the BJP led Indian government has once again put at stake the peace and stability of the entire South Asian region, bringing it once again to the brink of conflict. Despite all the criticism worldwide, with its politico-military offensive in Kashmir, it seems that India has already decided to determine the fate of the disputed region through sheer arrogance and brutality. India is mistakenly perceiving that such moves would likely tighten its grip over the restive region that is at the heart of more than 70 years of hostility with Pakistan. India’s policy to forcefully make Kashmir a part of the Indian Union by annexing it through political and military means would serve as a dangerous precedent. This poses a serious detriment towards the long-desired peaceful settlement of the Kashmir dispute and even with more disastrous consequences for the whole region.

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Remapping Indian Occupied Kashmir: A Multipronged Travesty

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The second Presidential Order on the Reorganization of Jammu & Kashmir by India in 2019 is yet another outlandish decision to challenge the objectives of a peaceful coexistence. It is a call for altering an International Order more conversant to breach the democratic political norms, history and fundamental rights. Kashmiris are once again rebuffed of their demand for self-determination while being locked in an unprecedented brutal curfew entering into more than one hundred days. The desecration is obviously offensive.

Including the areas of Gilgit, Gilgit Wazarat, Chilhas and Tribal Territory of 1947, a part from the remaining areas of Leh and Ladakh districts of 1947 into the Indian Union is a violation of several United Nations Security Council resolutions passed decades ago. The Kargil District was already carved out.

Historically, there were 14 Districts of Jammu & Kashmir at the time of partition, which included Kathua. Jammu. Udhanpur, Reasi,  Anantnag, Baramullah, Poonch, Mirpur, Muzaffarabad, Leh and Ladakh, Gigit, GilgitWazarat, Chilas and Tribal Territory. The new districts included were Kupwara, Bandipur, Ganderbal, Srinagar, Budgam, Pulwama, Shupian, Kulgam, Rajori, Ramban, Doda, Kishtiwar, Samba and Kargil. The illustrative declaration of Muzaffarabad and MirpurKhas areas of Azad Kashmir which are under the administrative rule of Pakistan is an untenable denial of the history of the region.

To refresh their memories India needs to remember that at the time when Maharaja Hari Singh signed the controversial Instrument of Accession with India in October 1947, Gilgit was already inflamed with the passions of rebellion against Hindus and Sikhs living in Gilgit. While representing the will of his people, Muzzaffar, the raja orderly in Chilas said:

“The whole of Gilgit Agency is pro-Pakistan … we could never swear allegiance to Hindustan. Apart from religion, the Gilgit Agency is really a part of the NWFP and is therefore a part of Pakistan. If Kashmir remains independent, well and good … .But if the Maharaja through pig headedness and bad advice, political pressure or attractive remunerations accedes to Hindustan, then there will be trouble here!”

This was sensed by the British Administrator William Brown as well and decided to overthrow the then Governor Ghansara Singh in a bloodless coup d’etat in November 1947 and a provisional government was established by the locals of Gilgit. Raja Shah Rais was appointed as the president and Mirza Hassan Khan as the Commander-in-Chief. Pakistani political agent took over the region, once Khan Abdul Qayyum received a telegraph from Brown on November 16, 1947.

By May1948, the Gilgit Scouts had already taken over Baltistan, Ladakh and Skardu as well. Indian reinforcements were blocked at Dras and Kargil which helped them cut off Indian communications to Leh in Ladakh. However, Kargil was recaptured by them in autumn 1948 but Baltistan remained in control of Pakistan, after which India itself took the issue to the UN.

The current remapping of the region of Jammu & Kashmir is nonetheless not only a snubof facts but also adding into already destabilising factors in the region.The Pakistani parts of Kashmir to the north and west of the cease-fire line established at the end of the Indo-Pakistani War of 1947, or the Line of Control as it later came to be called, were divided into the Northern Areas in the north and the Pakistani state of Azad Kashmir in the south. The name “Northern Areas” was first used by the United Nations to refer to the northern areas of Kashmir. Pakistan has declared that “no step by India could change the disputed status of Jammu and Kashmir as recognised by the United Nations”, and has pledged time and again that it will continue to support the just struggle of the Kashmiris.

In an attempt to rewind the India of antiquity or revitalize the Indian Civilization lost in the international order of nation-states in the post WWI era, Narendra Modi’s arrogant Hindutva regime is non-realistic. The current attempt is a follow up of the Geospatial Information Regulation Bill (GIRB) passed by the Indian ministry of Home Affairs on May4, 2016, during his earlier tenure of rule on India. The Bill was meant to regulate the acquisition, dissemination, publication and distribution of geospatial information of India. It restricted the addition or creation of any information related to geospatial imagery, data acquisition through space or aerial platforms such as satellites, aircrafts, airships, balloons or unmanned aerial vehicles without the permission of the government of India. The Bill also made its violation indictable in contravention of the section 4 with a fine ranging from Rs. 1 crore to 100 crores or imprisonment for a period of up to seven years. The draft resolution had also decided to set up an Apex Committee, A Security Vetting Authority and an Enforcement and Appellant authority to only allow the distribution of maps considered right by the Indian government. It was deceptively declared to ensure the security, sovereignty and integrity of the state of India with impact on all who may or may not agree with the Bill defining the geographical boundaries of India. The spokesman of the Indian External Affairs Ministry Vikas Swarup once reiterated that the state of Jammu & Kashmir was an “integral part of India” and the GIRB was an “entirely internal legislative matter of India.”

Assaulting the international political system, human dignity, basic liberties and perpetual boundary disputes by the Indian offensive posture have added to the stressed political environment of the region. In case of the failure of the domestic proceedings to address human concerns, it becomes mandatory for the world community to ensure the respect of the world peace. History records that after the WWII, there had been 14 out of 21 major inter-state wars on territorial conflicts. Global history of cartography has always been closely linked. Situating the “geobody,” along with altering the archival documents by the nationalist regime of Modi largely emboldened by the Western powers for their own strategic and economic preferences, is a teasing question on the UN partiality. The history of border violations or failed negotiations over an issue increases the likelihood of armed conflict and nonbinding management.

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Kartarpur Corridor: A message of Peace and Prosperity

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Kartarpur corridor was opened on 9 November 2019 (Saturday). It paved the way for the Sikh community to visit one of the most important religious shrines without a visa. There are approximately 150 million Sikhs around the world, out of which around 120 million are living in India. The other countries having the Sikh community are Afghanistan, Pakistan, UK, Canada, and USA.  However, the origin of the Sikh religion in Punjab, which was divided into Indian Punjab and Pakistani Punjab in 1947 at the time of independence of the sub-continent from British rule. The partition of Punjab has divided many Sikh families between Pakistan and India.  Due to political rivalry, among Pakistan and India, has adversely affected the Sikh Community. Some of the family members have never met in the last 72 years and few of them have already expired already.

While Sikh, Muslims and other religions lived together for centuries, especially in Punjab, and enjoyed complete harmony as the language and cultures are identical. But after partition, in 1947, the rivalry between Pakistan and India kept them separated for 72 years. With the opening of this Corridor, the Sikhs community in India becomes the most beneficiary and they are grateful for the gesture of goodwill by Pakistan.

The Kartarpur Corridor connects between Pakistan and India, the Sikh shrines of Dera Baba Nanak Sahib (located in Punjab, India) and GurdwaraDarbar Sahib (in Punjab, Pakistan). The corridor is intended to allow religious devotees from India to visit the Gurdwara in Kartarpur, 4.7 kilometers from the Pakistan-India border, without a visa.

The Corridor was first proposed in early 1999 by the prime ministers of India and Pakistan, Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Nawaz Sharif, respectively, as part of the Delhi–Lahore Bus diplomacy. On 26 November 2018, the foundation stone was laid down on the Indian side and after two days, on 28 November 2018, the foundation stone on the Pakistani side was laid down by Prime Minister of Pakistan, Imran Khan. The corridor along with all its allied services and amenities was completed in a record time frame. The corridor was completed for the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak Dev on 12 November 2019. As a special to mark the 550th birth anniversary, the Government of Pakistan has waved the fee amounting to US Dollars 20 for three days. It has created a huge good-will.

The corridor has not only connected the Sikh community on both sides of the border but also opened a new chapter of religious tourism in Pakistan. There are many other religious sites in Pakistan, which belongs to Hindus or Sikhs religion and may attract devotees and visitors in thousands of thousands in number. Kartarpur corridor is just a beginning, if it goes smoothly, many new sites will be open to Hindus and Sikhs as well.

This will also generate an opportunity for economic activities and enhance people to people contact. Promote harmony and understanding between the two hostile nations. In fact, Kartarpur Corridor is a message of Peace and Prosperity.

Pakistan is a peace-loving nation and a very responsible state. Prime Minister of Pakistan Imran Khan is well matured, visionary leader. He said on this occasion “Pakistan believes that the road to the prosperity of the region and bright future of our coming generation lies in peace”, adding that “Pakistan is not only opening the border but also their hearts for the Sikh community”. The Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi, compared the decision to go ahead with the corridor by the two countries to the fall of the Berlin Wall, saying that the project may help in easing tensions between the two countries.

Previously, pilgrims from India had to take a bus to Lahore to get to Kartarpur, which is 125 km journey although people on the Indian side of the border could physically see GurdwaraDarbar Sahib Kartarpur on the Pakistani side. An elevated observation platform had also been constructed on the Indian side, where people use binoculars to get a good view.

Indian Prime Minister Modi has thanked PM Imran Khan for his good-will gesture. It is hoped that India will reciprocate in the same manner and provide an opportunity to the People of Pakistan and Prime Minister of Pakistan Imran Khan to thanks Indian Prime Minister Modi.

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