AFSPA Smokescreen


The debate around withdrawing the Armed Forces Special Powers Act is increasingly becoming a charade. When two militants attacked an army camp in Samba a day after a police station was stormed in Kathua, BJP leader and minister of state in the Prime Minister’s Office, Dr Jitendra Singh promptly trained his guns on those who urge lifting the draconian law, the strongest voice, apparently, being none other than the BJP’s ally in the state government, chief minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed.

What Dr Singh probably meant was that as long as militant attacks continue, the AFSPA would stay. The argument is easily debunked by the Manipur experience, where, despite an almost complete end to militancy, New Delhi has kept the law in force, unimpressed by the calm in the northeastern state.

Manipuri rights activist Irom Sharmila has been on indefinite fast since 2000 demanding the Act be removed from her state, and won global solidarity for her peaceful struggle. Yet, New Delhi has not only ignored the world’s pleas, but also booked her under attempt-to-suicide charges. Mr Sayeed has consistently been talking about withdrawing the law, and his predecessor, Omar Abdullah, had promised that it would go during his tenure. The latter is today the leader of a party reduced to a shell of its former self, one of the main reasons for its rout in the assembly elections being his failure on the AFSPA.

It is understandable, therefore, that Mr Sayeed would like the AFSPA to go sooner, rather than later, to consolidate his standing among the masses and further discredit the National Conference. But reducing the political aspirations of the people of Jammu and Kashmir to the rescinding of a law smacks of adventurism doomed to fail. Unresolved issues of justice, which have become inalienably linked to this much abused law, are being brushed under the carpet, and the only debate clogging media space is constructed around its withdrawal.

A majority of the 128 people killed during the 2010 uprising had been shot dead by the police, who do not enjoy immunity under the AFSPA. Instead of inquiring into their role in the killings, the previous government had rewarded them with cash. Recently, a boy was shot dead by the police in Palhalan, and the government plans to deliver ‘justice’ to his family by buying its silence in lieu of a government job and some cash. The patent injustice of this policy and tactics is being sought to be drowned in the din kicked up over the ‘withdraw AFSPA’ issue.