Sunday, November 6, 2011

In the name of AFSPA

Of a political establishment that does not have the courage to make up its mind on such a crucial issue!


Theatre of the Absurd

The various claims, counterclaims, half-truths, and thoughtless pronouncements on the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) in Jammu and Kashmir remind one of the parodical scenes straight out of the Theatre of the Absurd. Or do they remind us of the story of blind men trying to describe the elephant, ending up describing only the partial truths? Perhaps yes, except that the men talking about AFSPA in J&K are not blind – they are just not courageous enough.

Omar’s hide and seek

Chief Minister Omar Abdullah recently claimed that AFSPA would be lifted partially from Srinagar, Budgam, Jammu and Samba prior to the Durbar move to Jammu. His statement was objected to by the army and the J&K state Congress leadership. Under fire from the coalition partner for his dictatorial and unilateral ways, Omar eventually said that the decision on AFSPA would be taken after the Durbar moves to Jammu. There seems to be nothing amiss here except that herein lies the well-known tendency of the Chief Minister to shoot his mouth off without considerable thinking about policy issues. He has made a number of revolutionary statements in the past including the one on setting up a truth and reconciliation commission in J&K. They continue to retain their existence as mere statements without being translated into any concrete action. Saifuddin Soz is not wrong in asking him: why talk about only AFSPA? Why not remove the Disturbed Areas Act and the Public Safety Act which are no less draconian and abused and perhaps easier to remove? Hence if he is serious about removing draconian laws, why not do something that’s easily doable?

Games the Congress Plays

The Congress Chief in the state, Saifuddin Soz, is outraged that Omar had not consulted anyone prior to stating that AFSPA would be withdrawn from parts of the state. Soz accused Omar of promoting sectarian interests and not consulting the state cabinet or the NC-Congress Coordination Committee on the issue. He is right and yet that is just a half truth. Are we supposed to believe that Saifuddin Soz is unhappy with Omar Abdullah for not consulting his party regarding the withdrawal of AFSPA? That would be absurd. The real endgame behind the ongoing war of words is the Congress’ desire to take over the Chief Ministership of the state from Omar as they did so in 2005 after dethroning Mufti Mohammad Sayeed. Since Ghulam Nabi Azad has had his stint as the Chief Minister of the state and seemingly not focused on the state at the moment, it’s the turn for Soz to try his luck. Hence his talk about ASFPA aims to, a) pit Omar Abdullah against the security establishment in New Delhi, and b) portray himself as the custodian of India’s national interests in Kashmir. Will the Congress ever learn from its historical blunders in Kashmir and restrain from grabbing power in the state at any given opportunity?

Defiance of the underdog

The military in India is ordinarily not known to have a say in policy matters and yet when it comes to AFSPA, easily one of the most significant aspects of India’s Kashmir policy, the Army seems to have laid down the rules of the game. They have clearly said that they cannot operate in J&K without the aid of the AFSPA. The army argues that the time to remove the AFSPA has not come. Who is the Indian army to tell us what is a good time to take a political decision? Really, it’s not their business. Remember, the Indian army has already blocked the potential resolution of the Siachen Glacier even as the political establishment is willing to resolve it.

I can not but agree with the wise words of M. M Ansari, the low-profile Kashmir interlocutor, regarding Operation Sadbhavana conducted in J&K by the army. He argued in a recent interview with the Hindustan Times that "It is simply not their job to provide education, health and other facilities… the objective was to carve an operating space for the armed forces but they have ended up narrowing the scope of the local bodies,". The fact is that this kind of “militarization of governance processes” in Kashmir by the Indian army will weaken the already fragile and deeply corrupt J&K administrative apparatus and institutions. The Indian army should be immediately relieved of its governance duties and the self-assumed burden of policy commentary. The army should be stripped of its special powers over the citizens of the state and be asked to man the borders and not civilian areas.

Anarchy at the helm

Apparently the Prime Minister, the Union Home Minister, the J&K Chief Minister and the J&K opposition leader are all in favour of withdrawing AFSPA, partly or fully, from Kashmir. And yet they are not able to make up their mind because the Indian army is not in its favour. These political leaders, at least those in power, have unfortunately fallen victim to the army’s blackmail that it is willing to withdraw from there but will not be responsible if anything goes wrong thereafter. Given the recent tendency of the army to speak out on policy issues, the politicians are scared that they will have to take the blame in case something goes wrong. Shame on a political establishment that does not have the courage to make up its mind on such a crucial issue!

(Source: Greater Kashmir, 06 NOVEMBER 2011. URL: )

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