Homeland Security

Fight alienation and not AFSPA
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Issue Net Edition | Date : 03 Sep , 2014

Troops patrol in Kashmir

Periodically Omar Abdullah demands abrogation of AFSPA from certain areas of the state of J and K. He claims that there is complete peace in these areas and therefore there is little justification for continuing with this law .These periodic out bursts against AFSPA and the demand for its removal appears to be a political gimmick. Though encounters with insurgents continue to take place.

…because the political class in the valley and certain other elements have been profiting from this deliberately created climate of uncertainty and ambiguity which has enriched them to no end.

He has been chief minister of the state for reasonably long period of time and one would expect him to have better understanding and grasp of phenomena of insurgency. Equally he would be aware what are the causes and how and why insurgency is being sustained in his state. One would also expect him to have a clearer grasp over the varied patterns, insurgencies go through and the ups and downs they normally follow, because the causes of this malady are never adequately addressed, more so in India.

He is not known to make any effort to eliminate atmosphere of alienation which is purposefully generated by vested interests within the valley. This is essentially so because the political class in the valley and certain other elements have been profiting from this deliberately created climate of uncertainty and ambiguity which has enriched them to no end. No one need expect them to kill the goose that has been providing them the golden eggs!

An area has to be first declared as disturbed area before AFSPA can be promulgated. So Omar need voice for the first step. AFSPA is merely an enabling act, which facilitates military to combat insurgency. Since military does not have even routine police powers, it would be impossible for it to operate in an insurgency environment without the facilitating provisions inbuilt in AFSPA. Therefore to expect the military to carry out any manner of operations against the insurgents without support of some legal provisions, may well be too much. As insurgencies can survive only where they have some support of the locals, so the army, perforce, has to operate in somewhat hostile environments, where evidence, even against its fair and normal actions, is projected as excessive: one that allegedly violates human rights.

Extensively advertised case of Manorma, who was killed while escaping from Assam Rifle’s custody in Manipur, was projected as willful killing after rape. What has never been made known is that she was a hard core terrorist and involved in laying improvised explosive devices on six occasions which had resulted in the killing of number military personnel and civilians. At the time of her arrest a radio transmitter was recovered from her. The nature of bullets injuries corroborated the shooting during escape. Finally two independent autopsies ruled out rape The point in narrating the details of this incident is that the environments in insurgency infested areas is such that even genuine incidents of encounters between insurgents and army are projected as fake encounters.

Counter insurgency operations, at the best of times, are a messy affair. No professional army wants to get involved in these, least of all Indian army. Since police and its variants in India are usually unable to combat insurgents, for various reasons, military gets sucked into these. Collateral damage in way of casualties to innocent civilians often takes place, because sometimes and perforce, operations have to be conducted in built-up areas and often insurgents inflict such casualties on civilians, knowing full well that the blame for these would invariably be attributed to the military. Infrequently mistakes and willful wrong acts take place and the internal checks and balances in the army appropriately deals with such cases.

…army establishes, what is called, ‘intelligence grid,’ in the area, which by itself is difficult undertaking, due to presence of sympathizers of insurgents…

To combat insurgency, timely and accurate intelligence is one of the important inputs required. Therefore, army establishes, what is called, ‘intelligence grid,’ in the area, which by itself is difficult undertaking, due to presence of sympathizers of insurgents and retribution by insurgents against those perceived to help the army. Only when such grid is established, that successful operations against the insurgents are possible.

Once the army moves out of an area and insurgents move back, the latter search out army’s moles and eliminate them, besides reorganizing themselves and re-establish their hold over the local population. Should the situation once more deteriorate and army has to be redeployed then its operations will be that much more difficult, because of the problems of rebuilding intelligence grid. This is what the chief minister of J and K is expected to know and need keep in mind.

The chief minister contends that the situation has substantially improved in J and K and if he really thinks so, then how much of his personal security has been reduced!On the other hand, could this improvement in the situation be due to the continued deployment of the army and its sustained efforts to keep insurgents at bay! Further does he discern any change of policy, for the better, by Pakistan and if so, then why dozens of terrorist training camps are still operative in that country! He also seems to under assess the likely fall out on J and K of future developments in Afghanistan. The recent political upheaval in Pakistan, the uncertainty of future developments in that country and the increasing number of terrorist attacks and the possible spill over of these terrorist activities on to J and K, seem to miss his grasp.

Indian Army does not subscribe to the idea of partial withdrawal of AFSPA, because of its experience of such actions in the North East. It has been engaged in counter-insurgency operations for over six decades. There is no other army in the world which has this range and depth of experience in this field. So, when the military opposes the selective withdrawal of the AFSPA, from certain areas in J and K, the stance rests on this vast experience.

…needs to realize that selective withdrawal of the military and abrogation of the AFSPA from those areas has its own pitfalls. Insurgents are not tethered in one location.

If Omar Abdullah is of the considered view that insurgency in the state is on the vane and he can clearly see it petering out and the central and state police will be able to deal with the residual elements, if any, then he must seek withdrawal of the military, not selectively but from all parts of his state, except along the LoC. He needs to realize that selective withdrawal of the military and abrogation of the AFSPA from those areas has its own pitfalls. Insurgents are not tethered in one location. They will move to areas where they will not be confronted by the military. If military vehicles or its personnel come under attack from terrorists then it will have to respond only under the right of private self defence and protection of government property.

Stance, attitude and infact perfidy of even the main stream politicians in the valley can best be looked at in the case of eviction of Hindus from the valley, because none of them stepped forward to stop this eviction or even spoke against it. This persecution and subsequent eviction of Hindus occurred during the period of governor’s rule and this complete breakdown of law and order in the valley was never adequately handled. There was enough police, state and central and the army, so controlling the situation was no great deal.

As the first batch of refugees arrived in Jammu, there was palpable tension in the town and as Corps commander there, I met the governor and urged him to check this eviction or at the minimum establish refugee camps in the valley and not in Jammu. Well nothing was done and I do wonder why the governor, was not sacked for his complete failure to control the situation and halt the exodus of Hindus. After all it was the most shocking and shameful development, where a large section of population was allowed to be turned into refugees in their own country.

The yearly pilgrimage to Amarnath Cave by over three to four lakhs devotees, add considerably to the economy of the valley and gives work to thousands of pony owners etc. Yet, when the Amarnath Trust requested for some land on lease to construct temporary shelters at Baltal, to provide shelter to pilgrims during their transit, leave alone the separatists, even Omar Abdullah speaking in Parliament, opposed this request, and appeared to object to the construction of a tunnel meant for ease of safe movement of pilgrims. Just to placate the separatists, request for this piece of land was withdrawn. It is such soft pedaling by the government of India and its representatives in the valley which gives sustenance to separatists and make them relevant.

Separatists from the valley too need realize that the days of free passage to anti-national activities by them may soon be coming to an end.

Baltal is well above the tree line and for greater part of the year under heavy snow cover and the land is completely barren, yet so much, hue and cry was raised against request for lease of this small piece of land. Omar Abdullah and other political leaders do not talk of getting Hindus back in the valley, restoring their properties, rebuilding their lives, reserving jobs for them, education for their children etc. The government of J and k is yet to give full citizenship rights to Hindu and Sikh refugees from PoK, settled in Jammu region, who have been waiting for the same these 67 years. No politician from the valley has ever espoused the cause of these Indians who are still refugees in their own country. In this aspect mainstream politicians from the valley are no better than the separatists.

Politicians in the valley have invariably opted to run with the hares and hunt with the hounds. They seem to profits by sustaining uncertainty and keeping alive the bogey of separatism, consequently no effort is ever made to eliminate the trumped up atmosphere of alienation and instead shift, focus on more pressing issues. Delhi too has been equally guilty in allowing such conditions to continue and failed to attend to the genuine problems of the state and thereafter act firmly against any anti-national activity or stance.

Pak high commissioner to India seems unaware of the change that has occurred in Delhi. His undiplomatic move to interfere in the internal affairs of the host country, in fraternizing with the separatists and anti national elements from the valley has compelled India to deliver a well deserved rebuff to his country. He needs to be expelled from this country for patronizing with those who want to break-up India. Separatists from the valley too need realize that the days of free passage to anti-national activities by them may soon be coming to an end. As for Omar Abdullah, he needs to quell, the unjustified feelings of alienation amongst the population of Kashmir valley towards their own country, rather than go hammer and tong after AFSPA.

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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

Lt Gen Harwant Singh

Former Deputy Chief of Army Staff. He also commanded a corps in J&K.

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5 thoughts on “Fight alienation and not AFSPA

  1. If Omar Abdullah wants to withdraw AFSPA the government should withdraw AFSPA and the Army should stop operating in the Valley. Thats the region where all the trouble lies and originates from. In the second step remove the Army and the Central police forces from the Valley. Let Omar Abdullah run his kingdom as he likes. We should secure the line of control and let the valley alone. Rest assured the populace will be begging for the Army to be deployed again in the Valley. But for a move like this we need a Government with guts. Remember what happened in SWAT. What the valley needs is a dose of SWAT and all will be well. This country needs hard decisions to counter internal turmoil. Pussy footing along politically doesnt help.

  2. Kudos to author for a tidy presentation of facts sans any rhetoric and one -sided views.
    If there is one group that has made the least positive contribution in our country, it is those that purportedly espouse the cause of human rights. Time and again, we have witnessed that they talk of human rights only of perpetrators of inhuman crimes when the police/army takes action
    They seem forget that the members of the police and army who are victims are also human and their rights are paramount because they earn it by performance of duty unlike the perpetrators.
    Politicians like Omar Abdulla are those arm chair leaders who live in ivory towers and have no taste of reality. Power has come to them is in the form of legacy and NOT because of their ability, which, unfortunately, is part of our democracy with its illiterate majority of voters. These voters are the mass who can be swayed by religion, regionalism, linguistic parochialism and anything populist and the arm chair leaders are adept at using any or all the above to stick to power. Nationalism, if at all exists, is last on their agenda.
    The role and need of AFSPA will be appreciated only by those who understand ground reality and are genuinely interested in the preservation of national integrity. At the same time there is no denying the fact that the onus is on the police and army to ensure that the power is used but not misused. Aberrations, if any, need to be dealt with an iron hand.

  3. AFSPA is all that stands between Kashmir and the Caliphate. The difficulty is not with AFSPA but with the incompetence and lack of integrity in Indian “governance” (or rather the lack of it) that has engineered a situation where it is necessary to call in the Army to do the job of the Police. The disenchantment with AFSPA indicates the occasional egregious abuse of powers (Irom Sharmila’s case seems very legitimate, for example) and the grinding down of the culture of the Officer’s Corps to be subservient in mind and spirit to their civilian bosses who epitomize the double helix of Indian rot: Reservations and Corruption alias Extortion.

  4. The AFSPA has been grossly misunderstood. It is only through the AFSPA that the Army can be called to re-establish law and order. The Army does NOT invoke the AFSPA – the State Government does! The Army comes in when the State machinery has failed. I am not aware of anyone questioning why States have failed time and again in maintaining law and order – one of the prime functions. Raising the ghost of the AFSPA is nothing more than a political gimmick. If the J&K Government gets its act together, invoking the AFSPA will not be required. But then the State Government will not have any horse to flog (dead or alive)!!

  5. Well Mr Farooq Abdullah is a politician and to be in power he needs to have votes where as contrarily fighting alienation shall have adverse impact on his vote bank but fighting AFSPA raises hopes of increase in the vote bank. For any politician to be in Power is more important than the task in hand unlike the armed forces for whom task is more important than the returns. Selective withdrawal shall have adverse impact and with total withdrawal neither Hon’ble Faeooq shall remain in power nor the armed forces be able to control the separatist with obvious consequences of return to 1947-48 situation which could be overcome to some extent than, but shall not be now.

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