Some hard facts

Some hard facts

About 1,485 cases of human rights violations have been reported in Kashmir Valley since 1990. Of these, 1,439 (96.9%) were proved false.

Following the Supreme Court verdict on the Armed Forces’ Special Powers Act, 1958 (AFSPA) Friday last, there were several media reports analysing the role of the army in disturbed area. These have prompted me to write this article.

This is not the first time the issue of repeal of Armed Forces’ Special Powers Act, 1958 (AFSPA), has come up for judicial and public scrutiny. Justice JS Verma Committee in November 1997, the Jeevan Reddy Committee in December 2004 and recently former home minister P Chidambaram in 2013 dwelt on it. In spite of these scrutinies and debates, the Centre is unable decide on fate of the AFSPA.

There is a difference between the armed forces of India under the Ministry of Defence (Army, Navy and Air Force) and the armed Central police forces/ para-military forces under the Ministry of Home Affairs (BSF, CRPF, CISF, SSB, NSG, Assam Rifles, ITBP etc) besides the state police. The role of both these forces are totally different.

The armed forces are equipped and trained to take on the external enemy aggression or wage a war when ordered to do so and win it for the nation, whereas the armed police forces augment the state police to maintain internal security and law and order.

Maintenance of law and order is a state subject. When the state police are unable to cope with a situation, they seek the Centre’s help to maintain internal security. It is only when both these agencies are not able to deal with the gravity of the problem, that the army is called in. Recent examples include riots in Haryana and Gujarat by the Jat and Patel communities, respectively, seeking reservation.

In these riots, the army did not view the brethren as enemies. Neither did it use excessive or unnecessary force nor its powers to shoot down innocent people. Because, the army for sure knew that rioters in these states are unarmed.

The army enters areas on the orders from the Ministry of Defence (MoD), which are declared disturbed jointly by the state and the Centre, that too for a limited period. The Northeastern states, Jammu and Kashmir and now the Maoist-infested Red Corridor are declared such disturbed areas.

Everyone knows how these areas have been constantly meddled in by the external forces inimical to India’s integrity and progress. Moreover, the modern technology is aiding these elements in getting easy funding, networked propaganda and sophisticated arms.

Foreign mercenaries who intrude in the garb of locals are leading the deadly attacks with deadly weapons. Our forces do not know what is in store for them when they carry out the counter operations in these areas. In exercising restraint, often we have lost more security personnel than loss of lives of terrorists. This gets worse and complicated when the local populace gives shelter/cover to such elements, may be under threat or sympathy. There arises a possibility of use of power which could be in excess and lead to collateral damage, much against the will of our soldiers.

The army doesn’t need impunity but immunity from subsequent harassment from civil authority in conducting highly sensitive counter operations. They didn’t have it even when they fought the 1971 war. Can we believe that there was not a single complaint of human rights violation against the army in that war, even though the army had the Pakistan on its knees begging for mercy? Who runs the North-East or Jammu & Kashmir or any area that is affected by insurgency and is under the Disturbed Areas Act? 

The question is not only complex but also stark and frightening. This is not only the call of the state governments or the Centre but of the nation to protect its integrity in today’s security environment. The Pakistan Army and the ISI have always been a major factor in the militancy swings in J&K.

They treat and nurture jihadi terrorist groups as a strategic asset and hedge on Pakistan’s eastern borders. The ISI continues to support these groups, their training and communication networks in the Pakistan occupied Kashmir. There is no change in Pakistan army’s strategic agenda.

Azadi slogans
This has been confirmed in the latest acts of raising azadi slogans, IS flags
and the utterances by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and others on the Burhan Wani killing in Kashmir. Therefore, shouldn’t we think there is a need for legal cover to soldiers conducting such sensitive counter-militancy operations is unquestionable?

Of course, the army should even be more transparent in its dealing with human rights aberrations. According to statistics available in the public domain, 1,485 cases of human rights violations were reported in the Kashmir Valley from 1990 onwards. Out of these, 1,439 cases (96.9%) were proved false. In 43 cases, truth was established and 96 personnel have been punished. So, it is not a free run. Now the ‘Rules of Engagement’ have been modified and operations are conducted jointly with the civil police and made accessible to the media as well.

The situation in the N-E and J&K are born out of socio-economic and political factors and aggravated further by foreign interference. It is sad that our political leadership since independence has not shown the statesmanship that is demanded beyond party politics for resolving these issues. The complexities are not new but known to every civil liberty protagonists.

Nobody is against dealing with the aberrations of human rights violations firmly and timely to create a deterrent factor. Then why blame army? The army, I am sure, will be happy to go to the barracks and train themselves for the primary task of fighting an enemy than fighting our own people. One should not equate the army with the police forces and the nation must not doubt its integrity in the performance of its assigned duties.

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