File photo of Army soldiers march near an army base on India's Tezpur-Tawang highway in Arunachal Pradesh May 29, 2012. Photograph:( Reuters )
Selective revocation of AFSPA gives terrorists the latitude to operate from their safe sanctuaries. The failed model of Imphal is a case in point.
Over the last few years, we have been witnessing a debate on the subject of Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA). Sadly, it is becoming more strident as media channels have multiplied, as have activists and ‘experts’.
Now with the social media, no channel is needed. Suddenly, everyone has a view and a platform to express it. So the debate has got high on rhetoric and low on content. There are frequent references to phrases like ‘draconian law’, ‘licence to kill’, ‘free hand to Army to rape and murder’, and much more.
Are we talking about our Indian Army, the simple soldiers who risk their lives day after day for country and countrymen? Or are we talking about characters from a James Bond movie? Why have the debates got so shrill? Partly because it is fashionable to talk about human rights (in that case, one needs to make a case about the human rights of soldiers as well, but I will leave it for a subsequent day).
The rights part have got discussed threadbare and the legal mores analysed to the hilt. Knowledgeable in their fields as they might be, these experts have no idea of how to operate in these tricky situations, where there is risk to life and limb.
The Indian Army, on the other hand, barely comes out openly in support of its stand on the AFSPA and has always been reluctant to put forward its views in public. The result is the public has got a one-sided and distorted picture.
Recently, this subject gathered additional momentum as a major political party suggested changes in their position on the AFSPA in their election manifesto. Once again, there was a flurry of activities, speeches and debates. Given the poll climes, there was the obvious political tilt, as can be expected.
But the Indian public deserves better. The purpose of this piece is to put forward the facts simply, correctly and directly, so that we can aspire for more informed debates.
Let us first understand what AFSPA is. It was first promulgated in its present form in 1958 in North East India when the army was called in to control the Naga insurgents, as the Naga National Council had declared independence.
Normally, a district magistrate hands over any given situation to the army by actually signing a form. But in remote, high altitude and thickly forested mountains, there is no habitation, let alone any representative of the civil administration. Hence the army officer in charge is empowered to take a few actions himself, such as searching a bunker or hideout without warrant, destroying illegal equipment, explosives and armament in situ, arrest anti-national elements without warrant (but hand them over to the police within 24 hours), and lastly stop anyone from doing anything that may be illegal and against the interests of the state, to the extent of opening fire, if needed.
Additionally, if an army man commits a wrong while operating under AFSPA, he can be prosecuted in a court of law, for which an approval of the central government is needed.
Later, when AFSPA was made applicable to Punjab and Jammu and Kashmir in 1990, two more provisions were added, namely authority to search a vehicle without warrant and to search an individual.
These checks have become commonplace in our lives these days. We open the boot of our cars and get body searched very readily by a security guard at a movie hall or a mall. Hardly ‘draconian’ or ‘licence to kill’! Here, we seem to understand that these checks are required for our own security and safety.
Let us also appreciate that the Army is the instrument of last resort. It is called in when the civil administration, the police and the central armed police forces have not been able to bring any given situation under full control.
When the Army is called in, it should be empowered or enabled to operate effectively. If Army is also not effective in controlling the situation, who else will the country turn to?
Hence, to operate effectively in a disturbing situation, in the absence of policing powers, the Army needs an enabler in the form of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act.
The Act, as well as the deployment of the army, is temporary. As soon as the situation normalises, both will go and the army will be most happy to return to its primary duties. When conditions improve, and situation permits, the govt revokes AFSPA in consultation with the army and other stakeholders.
In the past, on the recommendations of the army, AFSPA has been revoked from Mizoram in 1987, Punjab in 1997 and Tripura in 2015.
Selective revocation of AFSPA is fraught with immense danger. It gives terrorists the latitude to operate from their safe sanctuaries. The failed model of Imphal is a case in point.
Revoking or diluting AFSPA should only be done in light of the security situation, after giving due consideration to views of all stakeholders. It will be highly dangerous if extraneous pressures come to dictate such sensitive decisions.
If it is so done, the situation is likely to worsen and slip back by a few years. And then Army will be called in again, and so the cycle will go on.
(This article was originally published on The ZeeNews. Read the original article)
(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed above are the personal views of the author and do not reflect the views of ZMCL.)