TO JAMMU & KASHMIR Chief Minister Omar Abdullah’s demand for the partial repeal of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) from the state, the army’s response is not ‘No’ but ‘Not yet’. And its reason is not the residual militancy in the Valley but the fast evolving geo-strategic environment in the region, especially after the US-led forces withdraw from Afghanistan in 2014.
Here is how the Indian Army sees the scenario play out across the region: Kashmir will become the renewed target of Islamabad’s attention after the NATO allies’ exit. Coincidentally, Pakistan will start its non-permanent stint on the United Nations Security Council for a two-year term in 2012, together with the representatives of some Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) countries. This could set in motion a process that culminates in Kashmir’s independence.
The model, a copy of which is with TEHELKA, is the basis for the army’s resistance to efforts at rollback of AFSPA. It spans a series of geopolitical landmarks, from the conception of Operation Topac in 1984 through the “political tipping point” in 1987, which led to militancy to the “agitational resistance” in 2010.
It lays out an integrated six-year plan (2011-16) being allegedly worked out by Pakistan that draws on the opportunities of the unfolding regional and global situation. In Kashmir, this will include the incremental process of galvanising a fresh public groundswell followed by escalation of the militant struggle geared to bring the state back into global focus. The steady build-up would include subversion of J&K Police, disempowerment of the army and diversion of Taliban to the Valley in 2012-13, followed by engineering of a ‘tipping point’ and mobilising of ‘Intifada’ in 2013- 14. In 2015-16, Pakistan in concert with OIC is expected to move a UN resolution for plebiscite in Kashmir leading to the state’s secession.
“This scenario may or may not play out but this is the likeliest trajectory that the situation can take. And we as defence forces have to be ready for this,” says General Officer Commanding 15 Corps Lieutenant General Ata Hasnain. “The army’s job is to offer the best security opinion and stick to it.”
That is why the army feels the demand in the Valley for the rollback of AFSPA is far outweighed by a “pronounced and bigger external dimension” of Kashmir, which makes it an inalienable part of the ongoing great game in the AfPak region — a Kabul- Islamabad-Srinagar axis. What could be a game-changer is the factor of rising China. The army apprehends that in the current situation, an uncanny echo of the events that followed the exit of USSR from Afghanistan around 1989, exactly the time jihad began in Kashmir.
“At the time, nobody imagined the rise of Islamic fundamentalism around the world and the situation that would confront us. Who knows the situation could follow an identical trajectory. We have to be ready for the worst-case scenario,” says Lt Gen Hasnain. “Kashmir is not an ordinary place. We see the conflict in the place as the existential threat. Our job is to ward off this threat.”
‘We use the umbrella (AFSPA) only when there is rain. In case of sunshine, there is no use for it’ Lt Gen Ata Hasnain
THE ARMY doesn’t buy the argument about its absence in Budgam and Srinagar districts as reason enough for AFSPA to go. It contends it has both adequate presence in the districts as well as security assets to protect. “If not through day, we operate through the night. We lay around 150 nightly ambushes in Budgam alone,” says Lt Gen Hasnain. “Besides, there is an airfield in Srinagar that demands layers of security and the area domination to protect it. And what about our convoys that regularly pass through Srinagar?”
In response to human rights grievances in the Valley, the army nevertheless mounts a strong defence of its record of acting against the erring personnel. Lt Gen Hasnain says the army has taken action in 108 cases, which include dismissal from service of many personnel.
Lt Gen Hasnain himself headed the court martial of Major Rehman, who was charged with raping a mother and daughter in Kupwara in 2004. The Major was dismissed from service in February 2005 once the case against him was proved.
In case of Pathribal too, where the army killed five innocent civilians in south Kashmir and passed them off as foreign terrorists who gunned down 36 Sikhs in Chittisinghpora during then US President Bill Clinton’s visit to India in 2000, the army plays up the fact of state government not acting against the J&K police personnel “who informed the army about these persons”. Even the army chief, General VK Singh, in an interview to a television channel, tellingly highlighted the fact that the Superintendent of Police Farooq Khan, who was involved in the encounter, is now Deputy Inspector General of Police.
Similarly on the Machhil incident, the army blames the state government for delaying the action. “The case is in the court. We have filed a petition that we want to try the accused in a military court,” says Lt Gen Hasnain. “But for the past seven months, the state government has not filed the objections, which has held up the decision. The case can go to either court. But if the case comes to us, we will ensure that justice is done in the shortest time possible.”
In the given situation, AFSPA’s role, the army feels, is that of an umbrella. “We use the umbrella only when there is rain. In case of sunshine, there is no use for it,” says Lt Gen Hasnain. “More peace is there, less the need for the army to act and least the likelihood of the army being involved in human rights violations.”
As for the urgent need to address the deep public concerns in Kashmir on AFSPA, the army feels it has taken steps towards dilution of the law even while it remains against its rollback.
This dilution comprises four parts: one, Supreme Court’s dos and don’ts which among other directions forbid the custody beyond 24 hours and advises use of minimum force and co-opting of police in its counter-insurgency operations. Two, Chief of Army Staff’s Ten Commandments that call for the respect of human rights of the people in the state including “no rape and no torture resulting in death or maiming”. Third, Rules of Engagement, which similarly seek to promote a sense of restraint in army’s response to militancy and the non-violent agitation. Fourth, Force Ethos which teaches army personnel to respect the local population.
Riyaz Wani is a Special Correspondent with Tehelka.