Move with caution

While the situation in Kashmir is worsening day by day, there is confusion in Srinagar and in New Delhi over how to roll back the angry tide of protests that has been sweeping the state. Monday was the worst day of violence in the recent past and there is no sign of improvement. The death of more and more people and the spreading and deepening of violence present a difficult situation. The security forces are overstretched.

Even in places where they are present in strength they are unable to act effectively to contain violence. The state government led by Omar Abdullah has given the impression that it has almost given up. Omar has not taken any steps to cool off the passions and control the situation. The deterioration of the security environment is in no small measure due to the state government’s administrative failure.

Omar has reportedly warned that he would quit if the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) is not withdrawn from at least some parts of Kashmir. It is true that AFSPA is a sweeping legal measure that gives armed forces powers to detain, arrest and kill people without the fear of retribution. It is makes the forces less unaccountable for their actions.

The law needs to be withdrawn from Kashmir but this is not the best time for doing that. Both the Congress party and the UPA are divided on the matter. The armed forces which have an important role in dealing with the situation in the state now is against any hasty decision to withdraw AFSPA, even if it is only from some districts. The Cabinet Committee on Security could not take a decision and an all-party meeting has been convened on Wednesday. Since policies on Kashmir and methods to deal with the situation should have wide national support, the government needs to take into account the views expressed at the all-party meeting.

There are other initiatives which have been discussed and which can be taken to rebuild the trust of the people. The government can try to evolve a consensus on them and involve as many parties and sections of people as possible within the state and outside in giving a final shape to them and implementing them. The present unrest in Kashmir is not specifically and solely directed against AFSPA and so it may be premature to consider its dilution or withdrawal at this stage.

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