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Shouldn’t Delhi apply Kashmir balm on NE?


wasbir hussain
director, Centre for Development and Peace Studies

Addressing Kashmiris directly after a long hiatus, Prime Minister Man mohan Singh urged them to ‘give peace a chance.’ On his part, he has gone to the extent of promising to lift or gradually withdraw the locally despised Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA). “I understand sentiments against the AFSPA. It is only right that the Jammu and Kashmir police take more and more responsibility for ensuring the security of the people; in the days to come it will be our endeavour to strengthen the Jammu and Kashmir police to enable them to perform that role,” the Prime Minister has been quoted as saying in his televised address earlier this week.

The question arises: Will New Delhi be ready to apply its Kashmir balm on the Northeast where the stringent AFSPA, that is despised as much by the masses in the region, is in force for years now? Take the case of Manipur, one of the region’s hottest insurgency theatres — the AFSPA has been in force in Manipur since the mid-eighties and yet insurgency rages on in the State with a plethora of factions. For decades now, there has been a demand for the repeal of the AFSPA, but the Government has not made any commitment whatsoever on the matter. Rather, the Army Chief said recently that he was opposed to any changes in the AFSPA. Demands for changes, he thought, were being made for ‘narrow political gains.’

With the Army, and paramilitary working under the Army (like the Assam Rifles, for instance, in many areas), engaged in strength in counter-insurgency operations, the State police in the Northeast have virtually abdicated their responsibility on the terror front. At best, the State police have been engaging itself in law-and-order duties, which overlap with counter-insurgency to a great extent. But what the police in the States in the region know is that it is going to be the Army or the paramilitary that will do the actually counter-insurgency job on the ground which means taking direct action against the rebels.

The Prime Minister’s remarks in the Kashmir context are simple and significant. While stressing on the need for the J&K Police to gear up and take over the burden of normal law-and-order duties, Dr Manmohan Singh said, “They (the police) do not require special powers to discharge their functions.” This applies to the police elsewhere, including the Northeast. But, in the absence of motivation, leadership drought, lack of training and effective weaponry, and such basic things as vehicles and accommodation for the constabulary, this is a tough asking from the police. Yes, if the police in the northeastern States can be raised to the level of a good fighting force with the basic infrastructure in place and, most importantly, with good leadership and training, things can change. And if the police come to take over the role of fighting insurgency, the Army will no longer be required and in such a scenario, legislations like the AFSPA will not have to be put to use. But, this scenario may not appear so soon, and in the interim what are the options before the Government?

It was in the wake of stiff opposition to the AFSPA in the Northeast and J&K that the Centre had constituted the Justice (Retd) BP Jeevan Reddy Commission to go into the matter. Well, the Jeevan Reddy Commission has categorically stated, after several hearings, that the AFSPA should be repealed. Take a look at what the Jeevan Reddy Commission has noted: “…The Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958 should be repealed. Therefore, recommending the continuation of the present Act, with or without amendments, does not arise. The Act is too sketchy, too bald and quite inadequate in several particulars…” The Commission is also of the firm view that it would be more appropriate to recommend insertion of appropriate provisions in the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967 (as amended in the year 2004) - which is a cognate enactment - instead of suggesting a new piece of legislation.

The catch lies in modernizing the police in States, but efforts or progress on that front is not really encouraging. Take the case of Assam---between 2000-2001 and 2004-2005, an amount of Rs 170 crore was released by the Centre towards police modernization. The percentage of utilization averaged just 54.43 per cent, with only 17.78 per cent of the fund released in 2004-2005 being utilized that year. Things need to improve, and yes, withdrawal of the AFSPA can actually take the wind out of the insurgents’ sails because they have always been mobilizing people against the State for excesses committed by security forces while carrying out counter-insurgency operations in the region. Immunity to security forces from normal law of the land can be dangerous, irrespective of the circumstances on the ground where they are operating.

(courtesy: The Sentinel)