Reassure the army on AFSPA - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Monday 12 December 2011

Reassure the army on AFSPA

A trooper of the Central Reserve Police Force confronts stone-pelting during the valley-wide street protests in Kashmir in the summer of 2010

by Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 13th Dec 11

India is witnessing a bitterly polarised debate over J&K Chief Minister Omar Abdullah’s proposal to revoke the Armed Forces (J&K) Special Power Act (AFSPA) from Srinagar and Badgam districts in Kashmir; and from Jammu and Samba in the Jammu region. Abdullah, backed by broad swathes of the media, wants a peace dividend for Kashmir after a year of relative normalcy. This could be provided, he says, by loosening AFSPA, an emergency law that has since 1990 given army soldiers in J&K the legal backing to search, apprehend and shoot to kill. The army, backed opportunistically by the BJP, insists that the fragility of the current peace makes it too early to loosen AFSPA.

In its opposition to loosening AFSPA, the army has been painted as an unreasoning bully with an aversion to Kashmiris and a pernicious addiction to violence. This is not true. The army has, in fact, offered a persuasive counter-argument in meetings of the Unified Command Headquarters with Omar Abdullah, listening in. But since the military seldom leaks or tweets, its viewpoint remains unreported.

AFSPA, which was first imposed in 1958 across the northeast in response to the Naga uprising, was legislated by parliament for J&K on 5th July 1990, when Azaadi-chanting mobs took over swathes of the valley. AFSPA’s special powers apply in “disturbed areas” that must be notified by New Delhi or the J&K Governor in the Official Gazette. [This is commonly confused with the “Disturbed Areas Act”, a separate J&K legislation that gave additional powers to the J&K Police in 1992. This lapsed in 1997, when it was not renewed] Today Abdullah wants the denotification of Srinagar, Badgam, Jammu and Samba as “disturbed areas” under Section 3 of AFSPA.

The army says not yet, because Kashmir presents not just a law and order problem but an existential threat to India. It rebuts the J&K CM’s assurance that AFSPA can easily be re-imposed if the situation deteriorates; arguing that this might be politically impossible. It worries about the logistical lifelines to army outposts on the Line of Control, which run through Srinagar and Badgam. The generals reject Abdullah’s contention that the army does not operate in Srinagar and Badgam and, therefore, does not need AFSPA there; they say that while the CRPF mans city check posts, army columns dominate the rest of these districts to keep militants at bay. The approaches to Srinagar airfield, used by civilian airliners and military aircraft, are secured by the military. Within Srinagar itself lies the massive cantonment of Badami Bagh, headquarters of 15 Corps, which is responsible for the defence of the valley.

Top military commanders tell Abdullah that the peace of 2011 was a tactical pause after three straight years of “intifada-type” street agitation. This would let a fatigued populace recover; intensify participation from intellectuals and students; and neutralise the J&K Police. After this mid-course correction, 2012 could well see a resumption of the agitation.

The army rejects Abdullah’s implicit assumption that J&K has transitioned from conflict to “post conflict stablisation”. Pakistan’s foreign minister, Hina Rabbani Khar apparently urged Kashmiri hard liner, Syed Ali Shah Geelani, during their meeting in Delhi in July to prepare for a long struggle still ahead. Equally worrying for the army is Srinagar’s slothfulness in reintegrating over 20,000 surrendered militants, who could rejoin a reinvigorated struggle.

Running alongside the army’s security case is a competing narrative of political transformation. After 3 years of street protests in Kashmir, Chidambaram’s Rajya Sabha speech on 5th Aug 2010, admitting that J&K was “a unique problem requiring a unique solution”, was followed by sustained internal peace building. That autumn, a massive rally at Langate, in north Kashmir, saw participants renouncing violent protest if human rights violations were prevented. Then Kashmir’s moderate separatists spoke out against killings by militants after Jamiat Ahl-e-Hadith leader, Maulana Showkat Shah, was assassinated in Srinagar in April. Forced by popular Kashmiri pressure, the Lashkar-e-Toiba issued an apology. The peace of 2011 and record tourist arrivals in Srinagar are a reality; the army’s prediction of the coming storm may remain just an apprehension.

What neither side will contest is that AFSPA has become a lightning rod for Kashmiri discontent. It has developed into an evocative symbol of repression, resulting in the army being besmirched in controversies in which it played no part, such as the police firing on Kashmiri demonstrators in 2010. It has also allowed ISI propagandists like Ghulam Nabi Fai to propagate the notion of “India’s military repression of Kashmiris.”

AFSPA presents an urgent political decision. New Delhi must decide whether J&K is still a conflict zone or whether it is time to reinforce Kashmiri peace. Omar Abdullah is sagacious in declaring that this cannot be a public debate.

If AFSPA is to be loosened, the army’s concerns must be assuaged. Key parties in J&K, and the main national parties, must reassure the army that the re-imposition of AFSPA will not be politicised. Kashmiri separatist and citizen groups must pledge not to allow protests to interfere with army movements to and from the border. A refusal to provide such a commitment would place on them the onus for AFSPA’s continuation. The state administration would need to permanently position J&K policemen and magistrates with army formations so that operations can be launched in a non-AFSPA environment without delay or leakage of information. Most importantly, a focused internal political dialogue must be launched in Kashmir to reassure the army that yet another hard-won peace will not be squandered by political lethargy.


  1. Remember always not to let the issue become Indian-administered Kashmir--keep up the pressure on China and Pakistan to give up their sections of Kashmir back to India--that helps set the baseline for negotiations!

  2. Look fai and the so called... human rights activists... of J&K got exposed... from the arrest... fai is correct when he... says he met people from... The Republic of India... now things won't be kept on the boil... so to bring back uncertainity... to J&K... AFSPA need to be withdrawn... so that... J&K goes back... things can be kept on the boil... so grand father... father... son... pet project of... PM of J&K... can be kept... alive... else all these investment that of... 3 generations... in blood goes to waste... long live Kashmiriyat... HAHAHAHAHHAA...

  3. I would like to make few comments.
    1. You are a defense expert dont pass on the unnecessary and uncalled for comments against BJP. Dont turn your blog into political bashing.
    2. Why are you forgetting Pakistan and its designs in spreading venom in the Valley. We simply cannot let our guards down. We are already a soft nation and we cannot allow Jihadis to advantage of the situation. Our Army wants it and they shall have the protection. Our govt as it is fail to provide them with proper weapons at least have them whatever they have.

  4. I would like to make few comments.
    1. You are a defense expert dont pass on the unnecessary and uncalled for comments against BJP. Dont turn your blog into political bashing.
    2. Why are you forgetting Pakistan and its designs in spreading venom in the Valley. We simply cannot let our guards down. We are already a soft nation and we cannot allow Jihadis to advantage of the situation. Our Army wants it and they shall have the protection. Our govt as it is fail to provide them with proper weapons at least have them whatever they have.

  5. @ Anonymous 12:29

    I'm not quite getting the joke, or why you're laughing so loudly at your own arcane humour. Let others do the laughing, I would say.

    Or perhaps you're laughing at your notion that sense can be injected into an otherwise incomprehensible comment through the injection of a few hundred full stops?

    @ Sumedh

    When the BJP behaves like a stupid, mindless, anti-national bunch of juveniles, you will continue to see that mentioned on this blog. If you don't like it, go away and don't come back.

    You write, "Why are you forgetting Pakistan and its designs for spreading venom in the Valley". Do you post your comments without reading the article, or did you just not notice that I have reproduced quite clearly the army's concerns about Pakistan's game plan?

    Your recommendation that since the army does not have good weaponry, let them have AFSPA. What can I say that is not already obvious?

  6. This was a good article, even better were your replies to some comments.

    Strangely I do not have an opinion yet as you have made pretty good arguments for both sides. I just hope that along with peace in the valley, India gets back what is rightfully theirs and unlawfully occupied by foreign tribals - POK. Either that or the LOC has to be recognized as the international border.

    And yes when will the parties on both sides of the political divide stop with their gamesmanship. It is disgusting.

  7. Hi broadsword...

    i was laughing at the donkeys... that inhabit... J&K... like this one... who live in india... do you think... full stops... are full stops???... and hope your kashmiriyat... is live and kicking... idea called kashmiriyat... or what that may be...


  8. Colonel,

    Do not threaten your commentators ! Have some tolerance !

    Ah! people expect from you a good military analysis of a subject including on AFSPA rather than a political one, though the later can not always be avoided by a Jurno.

    Who gets effected on ground? Is not it the Army? Then why bring political parties into it and specifically target one?

    Remove AFSPA, then employ the Army under the politicised and thoroughly compromised Police Forces who are the part of the problem ? This has been long standing wish of police bureaucracy!

    If any force was to be employed under Police (law and order machinery)it can not be the Army. If one wishes to employ Army then use of special legal provision of AFSPA is mandatory. Period.

    Just see how popping and enthusiastic is that IPS lobby to remove AFSPA ? They have reasons to cheer.

    If the political establishment says that the Army is not deployed in Srinagar, then what is the need to remove AFSPA from there? Army rightly feels that they have all reasons to be equipped with AFSPA when they are transiting through or residing in Srinagar.

    I hope you are not another Arundhati in making ! Even if yes, tolerate others views!

  9. Excellent article Ajai.

    Here is another one on AFSPA by Brigadier Gurmeet Kanwal, Director - Centre for Land Warfare Studies (CLAWS).

    Do share your feedback on it.

  10. Why should i go away and not come back..... so rude of you... You are mean... I never thought you could be so mean and rude... if you dont want me to read what you write so be it... Good bye....

  11. Chandragupta Maurya13 December 2011 at 16:26

    AFSPA should stay until such time that militancy is completely eradicated. Omar Abdullah has too much time on his hands at the moment. He should spend that time in ensuring that his government provides good corruption free governance to the people of J&K and implement social welfare n unemployment eradication programs. A proactive policy in employing the 20000 surrendered militants into professional anti militancy operations would be a step in the right direction ie a salwa judum type policy. AFSPA is not just a Kashmir specific legal measure to cover army counterinsurgency operations. It's overarching reach in my opinion is to ensure the defence of the union of India in an event of external aggression by Pakistan and china wherein these militant outfits will crawl out from their kennels to carry out disruptive rearguard operations against the army in Kashmir. You remove AFSPA and you condemn the Indian army into committing precious troop resources to fight new uprisings when the current situation is being ably handled by the rashtriya rifle formations. There are better issues affecting the life's of Kashmiris ie unemployment inflation quality of life and a need for a peaceful day to day to existence. Omar Abdullah should concentrate on these issues and not national security issues involving AFSPA. AFSPA does not in anyway hinder mr Abdullah's government in delivering good governance to his people.

  12. "When the BJP behaves like a stupid, mindless, anti-national bunch of juveniles, you will continue to see that mentioned on this blog."

    Okay, so Ajai ji have publically mentioned his political leaning, which is definitely better than Barkha Dutt, Vir Sanghvi type 2G chors pretending to behave neutral and frantically act as Congress PR heads.

    My question to you is, what other choice, if ANY, any opposition party would have had otherwise?

    If GOI decides to go with removal of AFSPA, certainly a very LARGE(yep emphasis added) section of our nation will be against it..Is it rather not opposition's duty to represent this section?

    Apart from that, u have made fair points on both sides.

  13. "New Delhi must decide whether J&K is still a conflict zone or whether it is time to reinforce Kashmiri peace."

    Yeah with MMS(Maha Murkh Singh) symbolically appearing as head of our nation and lifelong Gandhi family servant as president, good luck my friend!

  14. Col. Shukla-

    The AFSPA should be dealt with ery carefully. The generals are right, hard won with much blood spilt by our men should not be squandered at the feet of political expediency. The army deserves support of our political classs, even if it is of the opportunistic type. Better still would be popular support at the sacrifices made.

    Anonymous @19:26 and 12:29 -

    Well, forget the full stops, this is atrocious grammar making your comments hard to read and harder to decipher. Looks like you are trying to hard appear deep. But, good fun.. so no hard feelings :)

  15. You write IA feels that once removed, revoking AFSPA will be politically impossible.
    Can you elaborate on why Army thinks so? I have a vague understanding that Politics in J&K is a mess with everyone having a selfish agenda and most on someone's payroll.
    But if situation detoriates, don't you think it will create enough Pressure on the Govt to reinstate AFSPA?

    I personally don't thing IA is misusing AFSPA but all that matters is perception. As you yourself have said, AFSPA has become a symbol of repression in J&K. I feel that it is proving to be a hinderence for IA in achieving its goal of "winning hearts and minds of people".
    So, perhaps removing AFSPA from Srinagar and Badgam can be seen as an experiment. If it works, it will go a long way in calming the percieved grieviences of people. I know that there is little chance of that but the prize seems worth the risk to me.
    And for the more probable scenario where this move doesn't pay off, then it would further reinforce IA's position and AFSPA can be immediately reinstated.

    However, all this is moot if reinstatement of AFSPA will be difficult. In such a case, we should not even think about removing or diluting AFSPA.

    PS: AFSPA also applies on CRPF, doesn't it? And while IA has lots of self disciple, that can hardly be said for CRPF. CRPF also has huge presence in Srinagar and Badhgam. I am sure you are aware of how most people there get confused b/n CRPF and Army there. On TV, I have seen so many educated Srinagar citizens getting angry on how Army mistreats them on Security checkpoints inside Srinagar when it is actually CRPF they are talking about. The activities of CRPF end up harming IA's image..which is a huge problem IMO. This is another reason why I feel that this idea of removing AFSPA from Srinagar and Badgam is worth experimenting with.

  16. Col. Shukla,

    Thanks for this balanced article. Yes, AFSPA is perceived as a tool of repression but then many things like recent discovery of mass graves by SHRC, Shopian rape cases and many other such incidences don't help in changing this perception.
    As far as army's job of winning hearts and minds is concerned (as one commentator has mentioned), I personally feel that it is not Army's job in the first place especially with a populace as alineated as Kashmiris.

    As one left-liberal blog recently said, the problem is not AFSPA or the immunity which this law gives to men in uniform, the problem is the political culture of impunity. This is precisely the reason why J&K police and their much-dreaded Ikhwans have been responsible for many human rights violations in the valley.

    @Chandragupta Maurya,
    Its a pipe dream to hope that terrorism will be eradicated completely from this country as long as our western neighbour pursues it as a state policy. It can only be managed, contained. And are you in your right mind to suggest a Salva Judum type militia? How different does that make Indian state from its Western neighbour? How many lessons from history do people like you need to understand that such actions will only create more Frankenstein's monsters.

  17. Ajay,

    you talk of Army and AFSPA and show a picture of CRPF jawan in the streets of Srinagar.

    Tell me the difference between a Colonel and a journalist coming from Hansraj College?

  18. The Indian constitution protects the Right to life.

    The AFSPA makes a mockery of it.

  19. Chandragupta Maurya14 December 2011 at 15:14

    @rajarshi: yes it's a pipe dream to say militancy will be completely eradicated. Hence the need for AFSPA to stay on indefinitely. With regards to India maintaining a moral high ground vis a vis Pakistan or china in relation to maintaining a salwa judum type militia to counter their militants. I say we've kept the moral high ground and righteous principled path for over 60years now. What has it got us ?? 3wars with Pakistan, operation topaz, kargil, 2001 parliament attacks, akshardham, 26/11 and not to mention the Bombay blasts, one war with china, militancy in Punjab, maoist insurgents, northeastern insurgency. This
    all a result of India maintaining a principled moral high ground that we will not indulge in similar tactics.
    This lamb mentality is what makes India an indecisive nation when it comes to safeguarding its national interests proactively. It's time for India to shed the shackles of timidity and fight this insurgents with a dose of their own
    medicine. The effectiveness of salwa judum in giving the
    Maoists a taste of their own terror cannot be disputed.
    Despite the SC ruling against use of such anti militant outfits the central abs state governments have decided to
    integrate salwa judum members into regular police units.
    Let's get out of this delusion that we shall not indulge in the
    same tactics as the Pakistanis and the Chinese. This is a
    war of attrition thru a million cuts to India and as long as
    India maintains its gandhian attitude of I shall not slap my
    enemies with mighty brutal and lethal force we will continue to see relentless acts of terror and secessionist insurgency propagated against us. AFSPA is not a tool of repression as made out to be by media, human rights organisations,
    jobless intellectuals who have too much freedom in India.
    It is a tool that enables the army to do what it does best
    and is trained to do fight and kill the enemy.
    Collateral damage happens but that is how it is in our part
    of the world. The army is not taking part in a popularity
    contest. It's operations may or may not be liked by the local
    populace.. People who are not happy with this can migrate to POK, Pakistan and China and see how well human rights, personal liberties and democratic processes are made available to their citizens. To conclude let's throw the " we are not like them" mentality out of the
    window along with the bath tub and water
    . A new India is needed one which paybacks
    Pakistan and china in their own coin and not through mindless time wasting dialogue.

  20. Col - Well if at this rate you keep suggesting your followers to abandon your blog, than i am certain that, that day is not far where you have ZERO comments to your post.

    Followers of Col's blog - read what Col write, but do not comment. Let's see how does Col feel. Rather, we should create a separate blog to discuss what Col writes...with Col not having any power to moderate.

    Give up military mentality buddy...Jurnos write with their pen and you want to shot with your pen.

  21. @ Anonymous 21:38

    "you talk of Army and AFSPA and show a picture of CRPF jawan in the streets of Srinagar.

    Tell me the difference between a Colonel and a journalist coming from Hansraj College?"

    Just in case you haven't read the article, it speaks about last year's street violence, for which the CRPF and J&K Police were responsible, not the army. Besides, the photo caption clearly mentions that this is a CRPF jawan...

    Anyway, since you ask, the difference between a Colonel and a journalist coming from Hansraj College is that the latter is a lot better educated!

  22. @Anon 22:15

    Indian constitution balances rights and duties. When citizen forgo certain basic duties of maintaining peace and tranquility, some civil liberties will be removed. So you make mockery of yourself by commenting something very basic and understood by all or us in India.

  23. AFSPA shall be allowed to remain intact as it is, till the situation really changes for good.

  24. I feel, one of the immediate priority should be to review the way how the freedom allotted by the constitution is exercised by some of our intellectuals who are too keen to dance with the tune of band of Pak and China at the cost of anything. Another priority should be to dominate the cyber world, media (print and electronic) so that the new generation can be convinced that the level of freedom enjoyed by its citizen even can't be compared with other countries of this subcontinent and instead of dancing with others' tune, they need to play a great role by participating in the system in reform of its policies to make it more and more accountable to its citizen for socio-economic development of all the regions of the country. There is no question of presence of army with AFSPA in a peace and prosperous region / country.

  25. What for army require AFSPA in valley? At present just go around see your self army officers and their families are on picnic now these days. So if AFSPA is there army will keep getting the crores and crores of funds and misuse it for their picnic.


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