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Loosing of Their Hold on Kashmir Bad for Business of India’s Military Industrial Complex

Draconian ’Special Powers’ and immunity for troops stay despite public opposition

by Kashmir Times, 19 April 2009

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Kashmir Times, 20 April 2009

Editorial

Defending the indefensible

Army chief’s objectionable observations on repeal of draconian AFSPA and reduction of troops

The assertion by the Army Chief Gen Deepak Kapoor that the draconian Armed Forces Special Powers Act cannot be repealed and that there is no question of reduction of troops from the civilian areas in Jammu and Kashmir makes its obvious that contrary to its claims the Indian state is not in a mood to honour the Prime Minister’s commitment regarding zero tolerance to the human rights abuses in the troubled state. In an interview to a private news channel, Gen Kapoor claimed that the AFSPA, which arms the security forces with blanket powers to kill or arrest any one and destroy any house merely on suspicion and grants them immunity for their action, was needed to protect the troops legally. He also said that it was premature to talk of troops reduction in the State. These categorical assertions betray a mindset that subscribes to the theory of using strong arm methods to suppress the genuine political urges of the people of the State and for that purpose presence of large number of troops and operation of draconian laws are essential. The Army chief’s utterances in this regard are objectionable on two accounts. First, in a democratic system that India claims to have it is the prerogative of the political executive to decide and pronounce on policy matters. The job of the heads of the armed forces, bureaucrats and other instruments of the state is only to act on such policies. It does not augur well for the democracy when the Army chief or any senior bureaucrat, be it the home secretary or the National Security Advisor to the Prime Minister, takes upon himself to pronounce on major policy issues. Precisely this is what has been happening in the country. Whether on the question of relations with the neighbouring countries or on dealing with the situation within the country the policy is being determined and pronounced by the Army chief and senior bureaucrats holding key posts. What makes such pronouncements even more objectionable is the fact that these invariably go against the statements made by the Prime Minister, State chief minister and other politicians at the helm of affairs.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had been repeatedly talking of zero tolerance to human rights violations assuring to consider the demands for revocation of the draconian laws and reduction of troops. There is a near consensus in the State on the question of repealing AFSPA and other draconian laws and reducing bulk of the troops from the civilian areas of the State. The State chief minister Omar Abdullah claims to have sought repeal of AFSPA and according to him the Prime Minister had assured him during his recent meeting with him that this draconian law would be reviewed after the ongoing Lok Sabha elections. Even the working group on human rights headed by M.A. Ansari, at present the Vice President of India, set up by the Prime Minister had recommended the revocation of AFSPA and relocation of troops, particularly their removal from the public institutions and orchards. Then why is it that the Army chief and others in the armed forces or in bureaucracy have been ruling out both the revocation of draconian laws and reduction of troops? And to justify their rigid approach and hawkish stance they have even been creating a scare about the increased infiltration and the alleged presence of Taliban in the State.

Such frightening voices raised time and again by those holding key posts create doubts about the genuineness of the assurances given by the Prime Minister regarding zero tolerance to the human rights abuses taking place in the troubled state for the past two decades. Unfortunately nothing concrete has been done to put an end to HR abuses in the State and remove the causes of such abuses. It needs to be understood that the human rights abuses cannot be stopped as long as the AFSPA and other draconian laws which arm the security forces with blanket powers and grant them immunity for their acts remain operative and large number of armed forces and para-militaries continue to occupy the civilian space. On the one hand the central and state governments have been claiming vast improvement in the security situation and talking of near normalcy in the State and on the other their important functionaries have been ruling out any move for revocation of AFSPA and reduction of troops from the civilian areas. Even no mechanism is in place to deal with the complaints of human rights abuses and bring the guilty to book. While the Human Rights Commission of India has no jurisdiction in Jammu and Kashmir and the armed forces are beyond its purview the State Human Rights Commission lacks power and authority and continues to be a toothless body. No credible mechanism for probing the cases of human rights abuses and bringing the perpetrators of such crimes has been evolved so far. The Prime Minister’s assurance of zero tolerance to HR abuses remains just a slogan.