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AFPSA becomes contentious issue
New Delhi, Sept 13 (IANS):
Published on 14 Sep. 2010 1:38 AM IST
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The Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) has become a political hot potato in the violence-hit Kashmir Valley, with the ruling National Conference, the opposition People's Democratic Party (PDP) and the separatists demanding its lifting and the armed forces learnt to be opposing the move.
The Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) after a three-hour meeting here Monday evening chaired by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to consider lifting the act from certain portions of the Valley in a bid to restore normalcy, deferred a decision on the issue. Instead, the prime minister has convened an all-party meeting on the issue Wednesday.
The meeting came in the wake of violence in the Valley since June 11 resulting in the deaths of 86 civilians in retaliatory firing by security forces. The AFPSA has created clear differences among the political parties at the national level, with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) vehmently opposing its withdrawal from parts of Jammu and Kashmir.
"Such a move will demoralise the security forces deployed in the state" BJP general secretary Arun Jaitley said Sunday. The AFPSA gives sweeping powers to the armed forces in their counter-insurgency operations and in performing law and order duties.
The act, originally passed by parliament on Sep 11, 1958 to deal with insurgency in the northeast, was extended to Jammu and Kashmir in July 1990. The original act was applicable in the "disturbed areas" in the northeastern states of Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland and Tripura, as also Arunachal Pradesh, which was then known as the North East Frontier Agency.
The act gives army officers legal immunity for their actions. There can be no prosecution, suit or any other legal proceeding against anyone acting under the act. Nor is the government's judgment on why an area is found to be "disturbed" subject to judicial review. In Dec 2006, responding to what he said were the "legitimate" grievances of the people of Manipur, the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh declared that the act would be amended to ensure it was "humane" on the basis of the Jeevan Reddy Commission's report, which is believed to have recommended the act's repeal.
In 2009, the United Nations Commissioner for Human Rights, Navanethem Pillay, asked India to repeal the AFSPA. She termed the law as "dated and a colonial-era law that breaches contemporary international human rights standards."
In Jammu and Kashmir, the AFPSA has beome a serious political issue with the separatists, opposition parties and human rights groups demanding the lifting of the act. A delegation of human rights activists led by Swami Agnivesh, which visited Kashmir recently, demanded the scrapping of the AFPSA. "The government says militancy does not have popular support. Then, why should they continue with such a harsh law which suppresses all basic rights," Agnivesh asked, while speaking to IANS.
The separatists want the revocation of the act, which they allege is a "draconian law to curb the civil liberties". "The revocation of the AFPSA will be a first step to assuage the hurt sentiments of Kashmiris," Hurriyat leader Mirwaiz Umer Farooq told IANS.
Chief Minister Omar Abdullah has said that he has urged the lifting of the the AFPSA atleast from the urban areas of Srinagar and Badgam districts in the Valley and the Jammu and Samba districts of the Jammu region. The Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS), which met here Monday to review the violence-hit situation in Kashmir and consider a peace package, did not take any decision on lifting the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) from parts of Jammu and Kashmir, an official said.
The three-hour meeting, chaired by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh,
decided to convene an all-party meeting on Wednesday to discuss the possible way out in the volatile Kashmir Valley, where 16 people were killed in police firing Monday. Totally, 86 people have died in the cycle of violence that erupted June 11.
The meeting was attended by Defence Minister A.K. Antony, Home Minister P. Chidambaram , Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee and External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna.

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