With five states in India approaching elections, the debate over partial withdrawal of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) in parts of Jammu & Kashmir has become timely for many political players. But the idea has, perhaps for the first time, created a situation in which the institutions are directly jumping over the political executive.
After more than 20 years of an overwhelming situation, Kashmir is security-wise much better than earlier years. Incidents of militancy are down so is the possibility of militancy getting new recruits. Most of the urban areas in Kashmir are experiencing late evenings out and businesses are working properly. This year a record number of tourists have added yet another dimension to the peace dividend that officials have been talking about. It was in this backdrop that political parties in Kashmir have been seeking measured reduction in the scale of security infrastructure that has dominated the Vale for all these years.
In fact the issue was raked up in 2007 by the then ruling coalition partner that made Prime Minister to set up a three member committee led by the then NSA. That initiative, however, was devoured by the 2008 unrest that led to the fall of the Azad government. Omar Abdullah rescued the issue after becoming the chief minister. He might have been working on this for some time but his public announcement last month created a ferocious debate on the issue. While right-wingers reacted on expected lines, it was Congress’s reaction that baffled many, given the home minister’s apparent consent after the cabinet committee on security affairs decision on the issue early this year.
The situation created a divide. In Delhi it is home ministry versus defence ministry and in Srinagar it is civil secretariat versus northern command or so it seems. Now, when everybody is opting for loud thinking, advice is pouring in from different sides. GhulamNabi Azad, Omar’s predecessor, was very clear in saying that if AFSPA cannot be removed from certain parts of the state, then what have we been doing for 20 years? He did advice against making it a public debate and suggested chief minister and home minister should sit and take a decision.
Azad predecessor, Mufti Muhammad Sayeed accused Omar for “lowering the prestige, position and status” of the position he holds by “mishandling sensitive and important issue” but asserted the “stringent and exceptional measures” are unsustainable in view of the vastly changed internal scenario and visible signs of improvement in Indo-Pak relations. AFSPA has outlived its utility. It is high time the decision makers sit, discuss and decide. Kashmir cannot always be ruled by extreme instruments of state craft.