Two recent developments have turned the spotlight firmly on the state of Jammu and Kashmir. The first was the release of an Amnesty International India report documenting the obstacles to justice faced in some cases of human rights violations allegedly committed by personnel of the Indian Army and paramilitary forces. The second was the release of the much-anticipated book, Kashmir: The Vajpayee Years, written by Amarjit Singh Dulat, a former chief of Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), India’s external intelligence agency. Both presented an unflattering picture of the situation obtaining on the ground in the Kashmir Valley.
The Amnesty report recommended, among other things, removal of all requirements of sanction or any prior executive permission for the prosecution of security force personnel from all relevant legislation, including but not limited to, the Armed Forces Special Powers Act. (Section 7 of the AFSPA mandates prior executive permission from the central or state authorities for the prosecution of a member of the security forces.) Incidentally, 5 July marked 25 years since the afspa came into effect in the state.
Significantly, the Amnesty report observes, the Centre has denied permission to prosecute members of the Indian Army and paramilitary forces under Section 7 of the AFSPA in all 44 applications it has received, or, in a small number of cases, has kept the decision pending for years. The lack of transparency about the status and outcomes of military trials (with limited recourse to appeal at that) is another cause for concern.
Dulat’s book, in turn, takes a hard look at the politics in the state with all its attendant ramifications and consequences. He ventures to describe at some length about how AFSPA has become a “dirty word”, not just in Kashmir but in the North-East, too. “While AFSPA gives legal cover to armed forces fighting militancy, it is also on several occasions used by rogue soldiers to act with impunity, and there is always an institutional reluctance to properly look into the allegations of extra-judicial executions or of rape of civilians by individual officers or units,” Dulat writes, before going on to make a pertinent but less appreciated point: It (AFSPA) is another cause of anger against India and undermines all efforts at trying to mainstream Kashmiris or Manipuris.
If, as Dulat insists, war is the last bad option, then it behoves of the government at the Centre to, one, show a degree of empathy with the people of the Kashmir Valley; two, scale down the military presence there; and, three, cut the Gordian knot that is Kashmir by making a bold humanitarian gesture.