A new storm is brewing over the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA). We can credit this development to the young Chief Minister ofJammu and Kashmir Mr. Omar Abdullah who could not help but “think out aloud” wondering if he could lift the AFSPA from certain areas. The purported rationale behind this is the claim that relative calm has returned to some parts of the state. The numbers certainly do add up. But do they tell the complete story? That, however, is a different question.

Many parts of Jammu and Kashmir have not seen extended periods of peace for at least two decades, courtesy non state actors from our western neighbor who wander into the state with a regularity matched only by the day night cycle. And because non state actors are not burdened by the laws regulating state actors they feel free to act their mind. We have seen what they have in mind over these two decades. The magnitude of this problem is such that our army has to be deployed to reign in these non state actors from the neighboring nation state. The state of Jammu and Kashmir alone is unable to gain control over the situation. Under trying conditions our army has done a brilliant job each time we sought help. This leads to the relative peace we hear being spoken about again.

However, sustaining this relative peace has proved difficult. Why? Because a familiar sequence plays out each time we manage to gain control over terrorism in the state. The terrorists go about carrying out their sworn duties disrupting lives and causing mayhem. The problem gets out of hand. The army gets called in to gain control. The army begins to gain control of the situation. Signs of relative peace become apparent. We hear demands for scaling back army presence citing this relative peace. When that happens we go back to square one and the sequence repeats. Where is the problem? It is in the premature demands for lifting army presence in the terrorism infected state. The army is asked to go back leaving the job half done each time. Following a brief hiatus terrorism begins to bloom again as spring arrives. This sequence is set to repeat again, it seems, if recent events are any indication.

We have seen a glut of debates over the issue of army presence and the AFSPA act. In fact we have seen these debates so many times, for so long that they have started to become repetitive. Out of the many features of these debates one shines through. Rhetoric. No debate on Kashmir, the army and AFSPA is complete without generous helpings of hysteria filled rhetoric. We hear stories of human rights violations by the army. When facts decimating these allegations are cited we see the goal posts promptly shift to “human stories” aimed at tugging on our heartstrings. “Human interest stories” are useful when facts such as these [1] [2] are not on your side. They help create distractions and hijack debates. Armed with these “human stories” our career activists can be seen queering the pitch for Kashmir. We can see these same “human stories” again feature prominently in prime time television news shows. The utility of these stories does not end there. They help revive sagging careers of activists looking to piggyback on the latest rage after their previous campaigns reach their expiry dates.

Opinion making too is not immune to these temptations. Reams of column space and hours of television time are devoted in trying to make a case against the AFSPA. Most of this takes place in a convenient vacuum. Relevant facts, inconvenient contexts must be shunned for they act as an impediment to a certain ideology. When talking of life in Kashmir a fleeting reference to the erstwhile residents of the state, the Kashmiri Pandits, is enough to maintain a façade of objectivity. Stressing the ethnic cleansing of the Kashmiri Pandit community, forced exile from their land, cold blooded murder of those who stayed back is deemed offensive for the current residents of the state. When it comes to comparing similar events in different states schizophrenic characterization is on full display. While a “pogrom”, “state sponsored mass murder”, “genocide” takes place in a certain state, a similar thing taking place on a massive scale over a number of years in a different place is due to “genuine differences”. Juxtapose this dogmatic refusal to term the ethnic cleansing of Kashmiri Pandits as a “pogrom, “genocide” with the generously creative label making for riots in other states and you will no longer need conspiracy theories.

The army is not the local police to operate under laws governing the police. The army is also different from the police. Take away the AFSPA and you will neuter the army. It will lose the lethal edge and suffer the same handicaps like the police. The very fact that the army got called in indicates that the situation is not normal. Abnormal situations call for abnormal measures. The state of Jammu and Kashmir does not face an ordinary law and order problem. It faces a proxy war launched by a hostile neighbor. Wars cannot be fought with both hands tied in the back. Removal of AFSPA does exactly that. It ties the hands of our lethal army against a hostile enemy. An obviously asymmetrical situation. The AFSPA and the army must be repealed after we have neutralized the threat of terrorism, reinforced out hold, equipped and trained the administration to carryout duties efficiently and independently. Until then it is premature to talk about it.

Image from here.

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