AFSPA: Why should political parties discuss it

There are mixed reactions on the issue of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act or the AFSPA. While the BJP had stuck to its guns four days back stating that there would be no withdrawal of the AFSPA in Jammu and Kashmir, now it appears there is an attempt to withdraw it in a phased manner. [J&K govt formation: PDP, BJP to reach consensus today; Mufti Mohd to be sworn in as CM on March 1]

The BJP which is all set to form the government with the PDP in Jammu and Kashmir had a lot of debating to do on the AFSPA. The AFSPA has been a bone of contention in Kashmir and many parties wanted it withdrawn completely. The AFSPA gives the army authority to make arrests, conduct searches without warrants.

AFSPA: Why should parties discuss it

The status on AFSPA:

There would be no immediate withdrawal of the AFSPA in Jammu and Kashmir as the army suggests that any such move would prove counter productive to their fight against terrorists from Pakistan. However both the BJP and the PDP have agreed that it would be removed in a phased manner.

First and foremost areas where the situation has improved in the Valley will be identified. The army would have to give out the details of the same. In these areas, the AFSPA would be withdrawn. This would mean the military would be replaced with the local police in these areas.

Army unhappy:

The army is however not entirely pleased with the dilution of the AFSPA. An officer tells oneindia that this is not a subject to be discussed by political parties in the first place. Only the army knows the hardship of fighting terrorists in Kashmir.

The army does exercise restrain and unless and until there is specific information the AFSPA is not implemented the officer pointed out. It is for us to decide what the situation is and these special powers have helped thwart several attempts made by terrorists to strike in Kashmir.

There were instances where terrorists took shelter in the houses of civilians. With the special powers under AFSPA it was easier for us to conduct raids in such locations which has helped bringing about peace to a large extent in the valley the official also pointed out.

Political parties feel AFSPA must go:

However political parties feel that AFSPA is a much hated law in the Valley. There is none greater than the people and when they feel it is draconian in nature it must go, the political parties in the Valley argue.

The need of the hour is not a military regime in Jammu and Kashmir. There is a need to have a good will building exercise. The lesser the presence of the military in the Valley the better it is in the long run, the political parties feel. After all the people have elected a democratic government which means they do not want to be ruled by the army, parties in the Valley have argued.

Can AFSAP be relaxed:

Going by the events in the recent past, political parties have made attempts to relax AFSPA, but it has not succeeded. When Omar Abdullah was the Chief Minister he had made an attempt in the year 2011 to relax the special powers granted to the army.

He had said that the AFSPA would be relaxed in various parts of the Valley and it was stated that this would win the hearts of the people. Although the then Union Government backed him, it never went through.

Several persons in Kashmir argued that it makes no sense in relaxing AFSPA selectively. If it has to be done, it needs to be done completely.

There were mixed reactions to the move by Omar Abdullah, but finally several in the Indian army felt that Pakistan based terrorists could take advantage of the situation and worsen the situation in Kashmir.

AFSPA withdrawal needs checks and balances:

Any decision to relax the AFSPA or withdraw it needs the consent of the Union Government. However a thorough analysis of the conflict zones needs to be taken into account before any such move is made.

The army says thanks to AFSPA they have achieved great success in neutralizing the Pakistani terrorists. It is thanks to AFSPA that they managed to put the Hizbul Mujahideen out of reckoning. The Hizbul used to recruit 3000 persons at an average per year into Kashmir, but with the AFSPA the army managed to bring that number to hardly 50 to 100.

Today the government would need to identify the strong hold of groups such as the Jaish-e-Mohammad and the Lashkar-e-Tayiba. These groups still have strong holds in Kashmir and hence areas of their operation would need to have the special powers vested upon the army.

Army may not visit areas where there is no AFSPA:

Army officials would now try and avoid areas where there is no AFSPA. The army would not want to be dragged into conflicts in the courts by civilians. Without a backing of the AFSPA, the army may not venture into areas where it has been withdrawn.

The army which fights a difficult battle would need the backing of laws before they undertake any operation.
Hence what several persons in the intelligence bureau and the army suggest is that before blindly withdrawing AFSPA, areas must be tested without it. Only after we test these areas without AFSPA should any decision to withdraw it be taken.

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