The fresh debate on AFSPA in Kashmir – P.M. Ravindran

Major P.M. Ravindran“Why should soldiers, sailors and airmen lose sleep if the nation is happy to divest itself of Kashmir, Nagaland, Manipur or Assam? Let them suffer the sense of hurt and betrayal, if it comes, as unfortunate citizens, no more.” – Major P.M. Ravindran

The unending Kashmir conflict.The debate over Armed Forces Special Powers Act has resurfaced again. Omar Abdullah propounded the cause that has, expectedly, been taken up by the media. Eminent persons from among political thinkers, rights activists and the army have been marshalled to debate the subtle nuances of the subject, and so enlighten responsible citizens while inviting the policy-makers to take notice. All of these participants in the origin and progress of the debate deserve to be complimented for their commitment to improve the system of governance. They must also be lauded for their educated and forceful articulations aimed at highlighting the matter in the correct and logical perspective.

Indian Army in KashmirNo doubt this is a healthy trend. Debate is the heart of democracy while wisdom of experts and enthusiasm of activists constitute it’s mind. That the debate sometimes transcends into exaggeration is understandable because ‘blowing up’ is a good way of drawing focus. What, however, is curious that there seems to be a disconnect – albeit in good faith and with good reason – between the armed forces leadership and those experts, who having shed the uniform, are competent to speak out their mind. Thus while the leadership at the helm has clearly expressed their opinion and left the matter for the government to ponder and decide, the experts having armed forces background tend to vehemently oppose withdrawal of this Act from areas which are – according to many in the know – are ‘not so disturbed any more’. Eminence of this knowledgeable group, however, would be even more prominent if they take it upon themselves to predict that all would be well in the coming days too. Besides, there is also the justified proposal of amending this Act that was enacted four decade back.

Let us face facts :

· The Act was enacted by the state for it to be able to deploy armed forces to control a serious mess that might have gone out of it’s hand.

· The participants – even if unwitting – in creation of such a mess are the politicians, bureaucrats, businessmen, locals, outsiders, anti-nationals, etc. Armed forces have no role in this business.

· The state has given to the armed forces, such powers that it considers would serve it’s agenda of suppressing anti-national activity. It may have considered the advice rendered by the armed forces, but the legislation was purely a decision of the state. Accordingly, the state believed that for the soldiers to deliver according to the state’s expectations, it was imperative to assure them of legal protection against acts carried out in good faith and soldierly morals.

· Thus the state enacted this doubtlessly draconian law, to deal with even more draconian terrorists who are neither burdened with law-consciousness nor subject to supervision of protectors of ‘human rights’.

· Understanding that in our legal system one need not be convicted, the process of prosecution is by itself enough to destroy a life or career, the state chose to assure the guardians of liberty by specifying that prosecution could still take place, provided the state – not the absentee guardians – is convinced of wanton wrong-doing by a soldier.

· Personnel of the armed forces have no desire to be involved in the dirty work of sweeping the muck left by the polity, and cause destruction to life and property of co-citizens in the process. It is their sense of duty to the nation that keeps them embroiled in such detestable assignments. Most of them are from other, more peaceful, parts of the country, and would be happy to perform their duty alternating between cantonments, training areas and operational deployments, notwithstanding the deprivations, mixed with frequent dismemberment or death that befall them on line of duty.

Clearly, AFSPA should not be a concern of the armed forces. Let the Act be withdrawn, diluted or removed, as long as :

· Leaders are not expected to order their soldiers to allow suspected person(s) to first attack before taking any action to immobilize them.

· The armed forces are not held responsible for “not doing enough” to contain anti-state violence.

· Soldiers are not asked to retrieve a situation afterwards if it goes beyond control again, as it would amount to asking them to die to wash the folly of the government.

Government of IndiaIt is for the government to take a call. Prior to 1962, it had decided to let the army hold obsolete weapons and equipment; it lost 70 odd thousand square kilometres of territory that will never come back. Prior to Kargil War, it allowed depleting ‘hollowness’ to creep into the army’s war preparedness, thus enticing Pakistan to occupy another part of our motherland; the sin was washed by young soldiers and officers by their blood. As long as the armed forces are not burdened with such unholy and inhuman expectations, why should soldiers, sailors and airmen lose sleep if the nation is happy to divest itself of Kashmir, Nagaland, Manipur or Assam? Let them suffer the sense of hurt and betrayal, if it comes, as unfortunate citizens, no more.

Map of Kashmir showing territory lost to Pakistan and China.A humble suggestion to the overbearing arbitrators of the media debates: the quality of debates might further improve if the participants are enjoined to stay anywhere in Kashmir for a week or so.

By the way, one must suppress the tendency of questioning the champions of democracy, freedom, etc, that if they have ever confronted anti-nationals or have their kin soldiering in such areas? Such questions are irrelevant, particularly as these reflect the ignorance of the purity of their commitments. In any case, the state must function according to law of the land even when under grave provocations. That is what makes for the moral fibre of the nation. But laws are to be statements of wisdom, not of chicanery.

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