Dec 16, 2014
The demand for scrapping AFSPA is ill conceived. What is required is to ensure that human rights violations are not allowed to occur and, if they happen, they are dealt with in an exemplary manner.
The Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA) has become a very controversial issue. It gives special powers to the armed forces to deal with insurgency and low-intensity conflicts generated from across our national borders. Separatists and their co-travellers have been carrying out a relentless campaign against it and so have human rights activists. Politicians, with an eye on their vote banks, also toe the same line. It is unfortunate that a speeding car going past an Army checkpost had to be fired upon, resulting in the deaths of three young boys at Badgam, Jammu and Kashmir. This incident has to be viewed in the correct context.
There had been a red alert in the state against terrorist activities during the ongoing state Assembly elections. Intelligence had been circulated that terrorists travelling in cars may carry out suicide attacks. Army checkposts had been alerted about this. The corps commander acted rightly in visiting the family of the young boys to condole. At this stage to state that action against soldiers will be taken will have an adverse effect on soldiers facing an unseen enemy round the clock, in very difficult circumstances. Such accidents take place both in war and peace.
There was a provision for martial law in the British era when the civil administration could be superseded and taken over by the military. This happened in 1857, and during the Jallianwala Bagh massacre. The last time the British imposed martial law in India was during the Hur rebellion of 1942 in Sindh. In Pakistan this provision has continued and there have been several instances of martial law. AFSPA is a substitute for martial law without undermining the authority of the civil administration.
The chief minister of the state heads the joint command group conducting operations in areas where AFSPA operates. It has an enabling provision for the military to function in an effective manner for national security. The Army does not have the powers of search and arrest. This act gives it the authority to do so. There is no requirement for a magistrate to hand out approval for arrest and search. Without this authorisation it is well nigh impossible for the Army to conduct counter-insurgency operations. After the Jallianwala Bagh massacre, the British introduced the four principles of necessity, minimum force, impartiality and good faith to guide the actions of troops acting in aid to civil authority.
Minimum force is related to the type of opposition being faced by the troops in this role. It is interesting that whereas Pakistan in Baluchistan and Waziristan and the US in Vietnam used artillery and air power, we in India have never used air power or artillery in dealing with insurgency, whether in the Northeast or in Kashmir. We have also been using psychological initiatives to win the hearts and minds of the people. In this we were particularly successful in bringing back the alienated insurgents of Assam to the mainstream. In the monogram for study prepared at the National War College in the US, the counter-insurgency operations conducted in Assam have been described as a success story of the century.