The 'North and South Poles' of Indian politics – Bharatiya Janata Party and People’s Democratic Party– have come together and formed the government in Jammu and Kashmir even as PDP has been demanding revocation of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA) from the state. Both partners have drawn up a minimum common programme and committed themselves to abide by mutually agreed governing policies and agenda. Yet, the new Chief Minister and PDP supremo Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, a seasoned politician himself, rocked the boat by thanking Pakistan “making peaceful conduct of elections possible “as if the Army had no role in maintaining peace in the state”. Another PDP MLA raised the demand for the Parliament attack convict Afzal Guru's mortal remains staggering the yet-to-walk coalition. Hopefully, the coalition partners will learn to condition their talk and behaviour after getting over initial vicissitudes.
|Highlights of the BJP-PDP coalition government's stand on the key issues:|
Having been India's home minister, he has overseen military operations under AFSPA from apex level not only in J&K but also in Punjab and North East. His daughter Rubaiya Sayeed was kidnapped and kept hostage by the J&K terrorists to be freed only after the kidnappers had secured safe release of six hard-core terrorists when the Mufti was Union Home Minister in 1989. As a man and father of a daughter so victimised, he understands the value of Army's role and AFSPA's expediency in controlling the menace of terrorism in the State very well. As a politician, however, it is his compulsion to further enlarge and solidify his popularity base in the Valley by appearing to be against the continuance of AFSPA in the State. His coalition partner BJP, on the other hand, is very clear in its stand on the necessity of AFSPA in the State. Yet, as the BJP General Secretary Ram Madhav says, “….on the contentious AFSPA, the common minimum programme has left the onus of taking a final view on the Union Government, while the State Government would for its part, examine the need for denotifying disturbed areas.”
“The PDP-BJP government is a historic opportunity to fulfil the aspirations of the people of Jammu and Kashmir and take the state to new heights of progress,”
If the BJP-PDP alliance in Jammu and Kashmir remains
The question is why has AFSPA become such a contentious issue in J&K? There are two primary reasons: Firstly, a large number of Pak-sponsored proxy war actors have been liquidated in military operations and the intensity of terror activity in the state is waning. Wary of peace returning to the State, the Pakistan Army as well as the separatists in Kashmir is averse to continuance of military operations in the state. Secondly, it is hard to deny yet painful to admit that there have been cases where military operations have gone awry resulting in death of innocent citizens. Informants have often misled the army units and patrols to raid
“hide-outs” to settle their own score in enmity. Such incidents, howsoever few and rare, have been magnified and played up against the Army by the proxy war managers. Their sympathisers, media and civil rights activists have devoured such anti-Army inputs kicking up public uproar from time to time. Death of even a single innocent youth at the behest of the Army, howsoever unintentional and accidental, angers the kith and kin and the local population outrageously against the Army. The Army must become more sensitive to public sentiment and institute effective measures ruthlessly to eliminate or minimise such accidents to the absolute minimum. In the event of any mishap, the unit/sub-unit commander on the spot must reach out to the people and the media to explain the happening and corrective action proposed to be taken.
Real Dimensions of Proxy War
Criticism notwithstanding, the real value and necessity of keeping AFSPA in force in the disturbed areas of J&K are often missed out under the din of public sentiment roused by separatists and self-serving local politicians who seem to have no idea of the real dimensions of Pakistan sponsored proxy war. This has only helped the proxies in projecting the anti-terrorist operations undertaken by the army units as is if these were public harassment operations' by an 'occupation Army'. Cashing in on populism, some politicians have been unwittingly playing second fiddle to the Pakistani game plan in the region. It is to the delight of Pak Army and ISI that even the last year's unprecedented flood relief operations by our Army and paramilitary forces saving thousands of lives has not changed this negative public perception.
Secondly, at a time when there is turmoil within Pakistan, Afghanistan and West Asia, peace and development in J&K is unacceptable to Pakistan. Official neglect, corruption and rural backwardness alienate masses who, driven either by fear or by greed, readily harbour or protect Pak intruders and terrorists. Obviously, a developed and peaceful Kashmir will not be as conducive for waging proxy war as the under-developed countryside with limited communication network and resources.
Thirdly, having ceded Shaksgam Valley to China in the past, Pakistan is now reportedly considering “leasing” the occupied region of Gilgit-Baltistan to China for 50 years. China is already occupying the Indian region of Aksai Chin in east Ladakh. Its presence in Gilgit-Baltistan would enable China to surround India from the north raising Chinese stakes in the region. Advocates of ‘Track II' initiative have been vehemently lobbying for 'demilitarisation' of Siachen Glacier in the face of China expanding its military presence in the region. These developments portend much bigger threat of Pak-China joint strategic ventures and misadventures in this region in the future. Fourthly, Kashmir connects India to Central Asia via the ancient Silk Route passing through Karakoram pass, which now connects China to Gwadar Port in Balochistan giving it access to warm waters of oil rich Gulf. Factors like Article 370 granting special status to Kashmir, a substantial part of the state having become Pak occupied Kashmir (POK) or 'Azad Kashmir', an ever active Line of Control (LoC) instead of an International Border (IB) and predominantly Muslim population in the region make it an ideal practice range for Pakistan to tie down India and finally avenge its defeat and dismemberment of 1971 by seizing the whole of J&K State. Their chance of realising this dream lies in keeping violence, corruption and frequent administrative disruptions going on. Peace, development and public contentment, on the contrary, would upset the Pakistan plans.
AFSPA- An Enabling Act Unfairly Maligned
Far from being 'draconian', the provisions of the Act only 'enable' the military to carry out its assigned role in aid of civil authority. Briefly, 'special powers' bestowed upon the military officials by the AFSPAare:-
- (a) Any commissioned officer, junior commissioned officer (JCO) or non-commissioned officer (NCO) can carry out search of any premises, vehicles or vessels without warrant and seize incriminating material, if any;
- (b) He can arrest offenders or suspected offenders without warrant;
- (c) He must deliver the persons arrested and seizures made to the nearest police station with the least possible delay.
- (d) In circumstances where the officer, JCO or NCO on the spot considers it necessary, he may use force including use of arms even to the extent of causing death;
- (e) AFSPA immunises military personnel from prosecution for anything done in good faith under this Act without prior permission of the Central Government.
Even though the Act immunises military personnel from prosecution in courts of law, the military authorities have not tolerated misuse of powers, howsoever rare such misconduct might be. Cases of misdemeanour have been dealt with swiftly and so severely that the appellate judiciary has almost always found court martial verdicts too harsh leading it to either quash or significantly mitigate the same granting relief to the convicted military personnel. In J&K, since the Army has to operate across valleys and mountains in chase of terrorists, the idea of obtaining warrants for search or arrest would be ridiculous in the midst of sudden and swift engagements and pursuit of fleeing terrorists in forests and ravines. Justifiably, therefore, the Act empowers the military officials at the scene to go by their prudence and carry out the operational tasks without magisterial warrant. In the absence of these enabling provisions, military deployment will be meaningless. It would be like tying the hands of a boxer behind his back and asking him to knock out his opponent who is free to play evil and foul.
BJP-PDP Coalition—J&K's Golden Chance
The coming together of 'North Pole and South Pole' of yesterday's politics is a historic moment and golden opportunity for the trouble torn state of Jammu and Kashmir. Both partners in the new coalition government, BJP and PDP, have spent two months of sustained closed-door parleys and agreed upon a 'common minimum programme'. Fortunately, they have a full majority BJP and a visionary Prime Minister at the Centre to back this programme. Although the voting pattern in the latest assembly elections clearly shows a communal divide between the Valley and Jammu-Udhampur region, the BJP-PDP coalition can bridge this divide, foster communal harmony and build up mutual trust and confidence among the people. Peace now has a chance once again to pave way for development that has been long overdue in the state. As far as AFSPA is concerned, its revocation will embolden the terrorists and alienists to regroup and restart with impunity bringing more trouble than peace for the government and the people. Of course the provisions of the Act can be revisited and appropriately amended without depriving the Armed Forces of functional abilities and without sacrificing operational imperatives. If the coalition leadership is committed to the vision enunciated in the common minimum programme, it would open a new chapter in the history of J&K.”
Karan Kharb(The writer is the author of 4-Star bestsellers in ‘Indiatimes Rating of International Bestseller’ books on leadership and a social worker)