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AFSPA still a touchy topic
New Delhi, Sep 14 (IANS):
Published on 14 Sep. 2010 10:31 PM IST
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A day before an all-party meeting on Kashmir Wednesday, the security establishment as well as the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) opposed even partial withdrawal of the contentious Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) from the violence-hit state.
Kashmir watchers also cautioned the government against taking the step in the wake of a fresh surge of violence in the Valley. However, Kashmiri leaders are demanding the withdrawal of AFSPA to assuage the hurt feelings of the people of the state.
Indian Air Force chief Air Chief Marshal P.V. Naik voiced his unwillingness on withdrawal of the act in Kashmir, saying that soldiers needed legal protection. “Soldiers while involved in performing their duty need legal protection if you want them to be efficient,” he said on the sidelines of a conference. Naik expressed confidence that the government’s decision on the issue would be right.
The BJP has made it clear that it won’t climb down from its opposition in view of the flare-up of violence in the Valley since Saturday and stressed that withdrawal of AFSPA will demoralise the security forces deployed in the state.
“The AFSPA is not against civilians. It is enforced in Jammu and Kashmir to meet the challenge of proxy war from across the border,” senior BJP leader S.S. Ahluwalia told IANS. He said the government should not consider lifting the AFSPA from any disturbed district of the state.
He said senior BJP leaders will meet Wednesday before going for the all-party meeting.
The AFSPA gives army officers legal immunity for their actions. There can be no prosecution, suit or any other legal proceeding against any officer acting under the act. Nor is the government’s judgment on why an area is found to be “disturbed” subject to judicial review.
The ruling National Conference, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and the separatists are demanding its lifting in the Kashmir valley as they think it will help address the alienation among the Kashmiri people who feel this act has been abused by armed forces to inflict human rights abuses.
“The revocation of the AFPSA will be a first step to assuage the hurt sentiments of Kashmiris,” said Hurriyat leader Mirwaiz Umer Farooq.
Chief Minister Omar Abdullah said that he has urged lifting of the AFPSA at least from the urban areas of Srinagar and Badgam districts in the Valley and the Jammu and Samba districts of Jammu region.
Human rights activist Swami Agnivesh is for lifting of the act. He said: “The government says militancy does not have popular support. Then, why should they continue with such a harsh law which suppresses all basic rights.”
Defence Minister A.K. Antony said the government will take a final decision only after consulting all major political parties.
“Yesterday we had a very long meeting. Ultimately, we thought before we take a final decision, we will take into confidence all the major parties so that everybody is involved,” Antony said.
He was alluding to a meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Security Monday evening that discussed the Kashmir issue for over three hours, but failed to reach a decision on a much-speculated repeal of AFSPA.
Kashmir Valley has seen the deaths of 88 civilians in retaliatory firing by security forces during street clashes since June 11.
Kashmir-watchers and experts have advised the government to tread cautiously on any decision involving AFSPA as it will directly impinge on security in the state.
“It makes no sense to please everybody. By amending it or repealing it, the government won’t succeed in stopping trouble makers from fomenting violence,” Lt Gen. (retd) S.K. Sinha, former governor of Jammu and Kashmir, told IANS.
“People who are creating trouble, they want freedom. The repeal of AFSPA won’t make a difference to their sinister designs,” Sinha said.
“Why revoke AFSPA against all reason? To appease one political party (National Conference),” Sinha asked.
“If you are going to give in to this demand, it will only encourage militants and create more problems, specially in the present situation,” said K. Subrahmanyam, a strategic analyst.
According to sources, the army is opposed to any tinkering with AFSPA and top military commanders voiced their opposition to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh when he met them at the combined commanders conference Monday.
In fact, it was the army’s principled stand, combined with the BJP’s resistance, that prompted the government to defer a decision on AFSPA at the CCS meet, said sources.
“Removing AFSPA from one or two districts from the valley would make no difference as the security forces would continue to enjoy immunity under the act in the other ten districts,” Muzaffar Ahmed, a college teacher in Srinagar, told IANS.
“Although it would not meet the demands of the separatists if AFSPA is removed from one or two districts of the valley, yet not acceding to any of the requests of Omar Abdullah proves that New Delhi is in no mood to grant any concessions to the chief minister,” Nissar Ahmed, a retired engineer, said.

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