Perpetuating the predicament
The calcified lingering of AFSPA has irreversibly distorted the image of a soldier and has been peddling violence and counter-violence in Kashmir
Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA) would have been a powerful method of bringing an emergency under control had it not transitioned into a 'draconian law', given a disturbing set of factors. It is stated that AFSPA is a necessity to keep up the morale of the security forces and that they need it for unhindered functioning. The Union ultimately favours retention of this provision, maintaining that it a 'temporary' act that will be repealed with the restoration of the security situation in Kashmir. The regional mainstream politics insists on its abrogation, predictably in the interest of their vote bank.
The recent Shopian incident speaks very sharply of the scarring impacts of AFSPA. When an Army's convoy was attacked by a disruptive mob of stone-pelters on January 27, the Army was obliged to open fire in self-defense after seven of its personnel were injured and killed two protestors on the spot. The repercussions of this were unforeseen. The state Police filed an FIR under sections 336 (endangering life or personal safety of others), 302 (murder), and 307 (attempt to murder) of the Ranbir Penal Code (applicable exclusively in Jammu and Kashmir) against a company of 10 Garhwal led by a certain Major which was on its way for official duty. The complexity of this episode spotlights both the parties on opposing sides of AFSPA.
A necessary clarity required here is that AFSPA is a legalised method of armed control in an emergency situation. Reasons for perpetuating this situation are a combination of political need as well as apathy. The calcified lingering of AFSPA, on the contrary, has irreversibly distorted the image of a soldier and is thus only counter-productive. Plenty of cases and reports point to the detrimental effect AFSPA has had on civilians. India's Independence left unfinished a most crucial matter about securing its borders; not deciding conclusively the status of a territory sharing its border with a break-away state was a blunder which has been ignored to this date.
The political need to militarise the region is that the forces keep the tensions from escalating beyond a situation of domestic emergency. The apathy towards this conundrum, ironically, engenders from this same reason: that the matter is (however) under (whatever) control, hence the emergency is mitigated—and thereby overlooked and perpetuated. The origin of the conflict is the handiworks of the Union government. To put it plainly, the Union government has outsourced the resolution of the matter to the State government with enviable amounts of funds and packages. The State government now, covertly, has an incentive to keep the conflict alive. And between these two players is the plentifully-funded from multiple sources separatist group having its way as a 'stakeholder' in the issue, as recognised by the Union government.
Coming back to the Shopian episode, the shoot-out throws up the aspect on the other side of the line: the violation of Human Rights of soldiers. While the violation of rights of civilians and their resistance has found voice and space, there has been a systemic exploitation of the forces to fill up the lacunae precariously left by the civilian governments. Keeping up the morale of the forces to function well requires AFSPA for their protection. AFSPA is the singular reason civilians have turned against the military so hatefully. The abhorrence for the Uniform (representative of the State responsible for continued disruption in the region) is so indiscriminate that even a native Kashmiri is not spared from being harmed or lynched if he is a security personnel.
Treading the tightrope connecting the military and politics, the civilian government has much to balance and work matters in tandem. To begin with, Kashmir is endowed favourably with everything it needs to sustain itself and prosper. The politically instigated and precipitated disruptions obliterate all the worthy things of the northern state. Systemic alienation of the state altogether is only to foment the conflict for much worse consequences. It is palpable among the people that they believe themselves to be particularly distinct from the Indian Union for their ethnicity (and that historical blunder). Ethnic, cultural, and political distinctness characterises each state of this federal Union. The fractured notion of an independent Kashmir (which includes reluctant and pro-India Ladakh and Jammu) is but a romantic carrot dangled by the sinister, exploitative entities.
There is no overstating the fact that Pakistan has been on the prowl since 1947 to devour Kashmir. The state is inherently self-sufficient but prosperity is hampered due to the calculatedly volatile politics. Treating protestors as obstacles is a malfunction that must be checked. The tremendous scope of the state to constructively absorb random groups of stone-pelting youth into indigenous enterprises among many others is a possible solution at the state level. At the national level, it is a dismal scene. When asked what if, hypothetically, the military is withdrawn from the city and confined to just the borders, "Lal Chowk per Pakistan ka jhanda lehrayega, aur kya," quipped an Army officer.
The ambitions and aspirations of the common people of Kashmir are not different from those of any other people. Largely a community of traders and entrepreneurs, there is every reason for Kashmir to seek space beyond the Valley. Improvised military tacks to cover the pitfalls of a fomenting political disaster is akin to the 'remedy' of accumulated garbage by hiding the hazardous mounds under carpets of synthetic grass. The result (despite the effort) is not enhanced greenery but just increased toxicity meandering its way to poison any normal, healthy environment. The smokescreen tactics of (whether or not fake) encounter is but just brushing matters under the rug. Power without accountability amounts to state-endorsed abuse. Continued arbitration in the name of AFSPA has been peddling the cycle of violence and counter-violence in Kashmir. Might there be an end in sight? Given the extent of political apathy and indifference, it is unlikely.
(The author is Senior Copy Editor with Millennium Post. The views are strictly personal)