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Another over-step?

Editorial |

Declaring any part of the country “disturbed” and opening the way to imposing the Armed Force Special Powers Act is a decision of the government ~ hence its withdrawal is also a political decision. As the entity primarily concerned with exercising the provisions of that legislation, the Army has only a marginal say in whether those special provisions should be invoked or withdrawn.

Yet the Chief of the Army Staff has utilised an interview with a national news agency to publicly aver that the “time is not right” for lifting the much-condemned legislation in Jammu and Kashmir and elsewhere. This is tantamount to a pressure tactic when the ministries for home and defence are reportedly reviewing the situation. Of course the Army is fully entitled to press its case with the government, but “going public” could be seen as yet another instance of General Bipin Rawat stepping out of line. Worse, given the common perception of the government being more than a trifle bellicose, the General could invite the charge of playing to a political gallery ~ which runs counter to the traditions of the armed forces.

It is no secret that the chief minister of J&K has been calling for the revocation of AFSPA which has been in force in the state since 1990: so also the political leadership, across the party spectrum, in the North-east where it was introduced in 1958 in Nagaland and then “extended” to adjoining states. Punjab has the unique distinction of a state where AFSPA was imposed and then lifted.

Does that mean that there has been no positive change in conditions in either “theatre” these past decades? All legal experts decry AFSPA’s provisions as “draconian”, the Law Commission has recommended dilution of the provisions which shield Army personnel against prosecution for excesses, and no government can claim to have effected improvements as long as the Act is in force. Irom Sharmila became an international figure for her protracted fast in protest against that enactment. “National security” is the alibi for the government’s continuance with a law that actually testifies to sustained incompetence. Gen Rawat’s pressing for keeping AFSPA in place is also an admission of the Army’s inability to counter terrorism without infringing human rights ~ “history” will confirm that.

The J&K government has just registered a case of murder against an officer of the Army. Nobody has forgotten how Gen Rawat “commended” another officer for using a “human shield”, the Machhil killings still haunt… Nobody accepts that the Army strives to use minimum force, honours human rights etc. despite what the Chief and the Generals keep saying. And raising the “Pakistan angle” has lost much traction. By publicly advocating AFSPA, the message going out is that the Army Chief and the Centre’s Special Representative are not on the same page. This does not reflect well on Raisina Hill.