Sixty six years after her independence, India is shifting from its federal structure by using a ‘security route’ to encroach upon the autonomy enjoyed by the states. Will the new security regime affect the state of Jammu and Kashmir too, which enjoys a ‘special status’ under Indian constitution, Shah Abbas reports.
The controversial arrest of Syed Liyaqat Ali Shah by Delhi police has once again pointed towards the increasing authority shown by New Delhi by encroaching upon the autonomy of states by posing a deft threat to their rights guaranteed under the constitution. This process was initiated by the former home minister P Chidambaram when he proposed setting up National Counter-Terrorism Center (NCTC) to deal with the growing secessionist movements in different states of India from North Block in New Delhi.
The NCTC along with ‘Net-Grid’, National Investigation Agency (NIA) and Website Data Centre which were set up under Chidambaram’s tenure as home minister, was tasked to gather information about militant activities in India. It was a clear message from Delhi that it was not going ‘soft’ on internal threats. Uniform surrender policy, incidentally, also happens to be the brainchild of P Chidamabaram.
In February 2010, Chidambaram proposed giving amnesty to Kashmiri youth in Pakistan Administered Kashmir (Pak) who wanted to return home and lead a normal life. The sources said that the policy was announced by the Jammu and Kashmir government some time later in the same year which was hoped to work as ‘a big confidence building measure’. Liyaqat’s arrest by Delhi police, has triggered a discussion on the ‘Return and Rehabilitation policy’ for the militants who had crossed over to the other side of Line of Control (LoC).
Chidambaram’s announcement was a snub to his cabinet colleague, Ghulam Nadi Azad, who had called the proposal ‘unworkable’ and dangerous. Azad was lambasted by chief minister Omar Abdullah, who argued that such decisions were taken by the home ministry, and not the health ministry which Azad headed. “Those who have married across the LoC will not be allowed to return with wives unless Indian High Commission in Islamabad permits it,” the policy document reads.
The government was supposed to verify the credentials of surrendered militants during which they were to be put through questioning and interrogation. The youth were asked to report at their local police stations every week. Jammu and Kashmir police and central paramilitary forces were supposed to keep a list of surrendered militants in their areas of operation and monitor their activities.
The policy had made it clear that the criminal cases against the surrendered militants will not be withdrawn. The surrendered youth were not to be given a financial rehabilitation package but they were encouraged to join government sponsored vocational training courses. In case the surrendered militants ‘behaved well’, the government would have considered announcing a rehabilitation package for them.
The state police was asked by the government to remain in the loop about every surrendered militant. Those parents who wanted their children to return were told to contact the additional DIG of J&K Criminal Investigation Department (CID) which would have facilitated their return. The youth were supposed to take an oath before the authorities, vowing to remain away from militant activities.
The policy had identified as ‘non-militants’ those who crossed the LoC in nineties but didn’t associate themselves with any militant group. They were asked to seek help from Indian Embassy in Islamabad to work out the details of their return. The government had identified four entry points – Poonch-Rawalakote (Poonch), Uri-Muzaffarabad (Uri), Wagah (Punjab) and Indira Gandhi International Airport, New Delhi. But Islamabad had reservations and none of the militants in PaK used the prescribed routes. With the result, Nepal emerged as an alternative route for the youth in Pak who were eager to return home.
India and Nepal have as many as 21 crossing points. Sensing the mood of Islamabad, India began exploring the option of allowing the entry of surrendered militants from those crossing points and the J&K police was supposed to be deployed at all these entry points to bring the youth back to Kashmir. The process somehow was leaked to the media and the deployment of Jammu and Kashmir police was prevented on the International Border with Sashastra Seema Bal (SSB).
It was the open war of words triggered between Jammu and Kashmir police and Delhi police over the arrest of Liyaqat which paved way for legalizing the Nepal route. As part of the new arrangement, sources privy to the developments said, Jammu and Kashmir police will assist Sashastra Seema Bal (SSB) along Indo-Nepal border to facilitate safe return of the militants from Pak. Minister of State for Home, Sajjad Kichloo revealed this while talking to Kashmir Life that a special police unit will be established to assist SSB on Indo-Nepal Border. “J&K Police has been directed to form a special unit that can be deployed with SSB so that the return and rehabilitation policy goes on smoothly,” Kickloo said.
Despite the large claims of peace by the state government, and the Return and Rehabilitation policy for the militants in operation, the fact is that militant attacks in Kashmir are still continuing. Within a period of just fourteen days, militants struck at four places since mid March. First it was Bemina Attack on March 13, followed by shootout at Nawgam within a week. A few days later, a youth was shot dead in a mosque in Sopore after which an SOG camp was targeted in Shopian. Even the state police chief, Ashok Prasad, announced a state of high alert after security inputs that there was a possibility of ‘Fidayeen attacks’ in the state.
Delhi has not engaged with secessionist movements in Kashmir only. In the vast terrains in north, central and southern India described as ‘India’s Red Corridor’, forces are violently fighting this battle of ideas on multiple fronts. At the beginning of Chidambaram’s tenure as home minister, at least 200 districts were under Naxal control which had compelled Chidambaram to consider centralizing and redefining the concept of internal security.
NCTC was a proposed federal anti-terrorism unit modeled on US’s National Counter-Terrorism Center. The proposal was formed after the 26/11 Mumbai Attacks which had necessitated the formation of a federal agency with real time intelligence inputs to counter militant activities flourishing in many states across India.
But there was dissent. As many as nine chief ministers ridiculed New Delhi’s decision and many had shot off their dissent notes to Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh, as well as his colleague, Chidambaram, who now heads finance ministry. Mamata Banerjee was one of the chief ministers who protested stating that it amounted to fiddling with the sovereign structure of India.
Despite these reservations, the central government passed a legislation to make provisions for establishment of National Investigation Agency (NIA) in a concurrent jurisdiction framework with provisions of taking up specific cases under specific acts for investigation. Accordingly, the NIA Act was enacted on December 12, 2008 and the National Investigation Agency (NIA) was born. At present, NIA is functioning as the ‘Central Counter Terrorism Law Enforcement Agency’ in India.
NCTC is supposed to have offices across the states to gather real time information on militancy. It will be headed by an Intelligence Bureau official who will report to home ministry. NCTC officers will be given powers to carry out raids without prior permission of respective states and the officers can carry out arrests too. The state police are bound to share details of their investigations in militancy related cases to NCTC, if required, no matter how confidential it is, to gather real-time intelligence, exactly what IB was lacking, and to distribute information to other agencies in order to have an effective system in place to tackle militancy.
By centralizing this fight against militancy and terrorism, there will be a gradual erosion of India’s federal structure which will subsequently minimize the autonomy enjoyed by the states which can trigger many concerns in future. Especially in a state like Jammu and Kashmir which has a ‘special status’ under Article 370 of Indian constitution, the role of NCTC can be seen as a ‘security route to encroach’ upon the ‘aspirations’ of the people.
Nevertheless, the ruling National Conference party which advocates autonomy for the state doesn’t find any faults with the policy. The party is taking the arrest of Liyaqat by Delhi police as a normal case that would be resolved soon. “It is not any sort of encroachment to damage or minimize the autonomy of the state. I think it is like going deep within lines and trying to find faults,” said Tanveer Sadiq, political secretary to Omar Abdullah, adding, “Liyaqat’s arrest is a matter which has been taken with Ministry of Home Affairs by none other than the CM himself. The state police are in touch with Delhi Police and we are hopeful that the matter will be sorted out soon.” He, however, clarified that NIA has its own ways of working and that it will be too early to reach any conclusion on the case.
The opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) which has been demanding self rule for the state feels that Omar Abdullah should have demanded that Liyaqat be handed over to the state till the time he was found guilty. “New Delhi does not need to encroach upon the special status enjoyed by Jammu and Kashmir. Omar Abdullah has himself surrendered his authority to New Delhi. The Centre is not doing everything on its own. Unfortunately it is our chief minister who has surrendered even governance to it. It was under his tenure that curfew was imposed by Delhi to control protests. The situation created by the CM has, in fact, made us to think that Centre was encroaching by taking the security route,” PDP President, Mehbooba Mufti said.
“But Omar sahib has failed to make it a point. It was he who suggested that the investigation in the Liyaqat’s arrest should be done by NIA. So it is not an encroachment into the state matters. It is simply a case of surrender of CM,” Mehbooba said.
“India is using double standards in J&K even in matters of security. Naxal areas are the worst affected by violence but the controversial Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) is in force in Kashmir. The counter insurgency pattern in the north eastern states is quite different from Jammu and Kashmir. See the example of Nagaland where ceasefire is in place and armed militants are moving around freely. The local police and paramilitary forces have been directed to remain at least one kilometer away from the militant camps funded by local people,” Dr Sheikh Showkat, who teaches Law at Central University, said.
The question however remains. How will New Delhi implement the new patterns of ‘centralizing the security measures’ in Jammu and Kashmir? As we approach the assembly elections, there will be more such cases. Will NC and PDP silently tolerate these moves?