|#1613||2216||July 26, 2016||By Brig NK Bhatia|
The Supreme Court verdict of 08 July 2016 on prolonged deployment of Army and Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) in Manipur has come at an appropriate time to reconsider the need for continued engagement of the Army in internal security duties. Some of the observations and comments of the court are quite sharp and have invited comments from all spectrums of society depending on which side of the opinion they represent.
Irrespective of the debate, a section of society has been projecting the continued deployment of Army in North East, essentially in Nagaland and Manipur as counterproductive and reason for dissatisfaction among a group of locals.
Nothing could be far from truth. It is conveniently forgotten that in the past army relinquished internal security duties once AFSPA was withdrawn from Mizoram in 1986 consequent to signing of the Mizo Accord and return of peace in the state. In recent past the AFSPA was withdrawn from the whole state of Tripura in May 2015, where it had been in operation since February 1997. The main reason for withdrawal of the Act from the two states was a result of decrease in militancy related incidents and return to normalcy. The role of political establishment in engaging with misguided insurgents and bringing them to peace was paramount once the situation had been stabilized by the armed forces.
The enactment of AFSPA in Punjab in 1983 empowering the Army to operate in the state resulted in its widespread deployment. It was revoked in 1997 once the situation had been brought under control and normalcy restored. Very little is talked about this phase of Army’s deployment and effective use of the Act to restore peace in a frontline western state.
The situation in Jammu and Kashmir has necessitated sustained role for armed forces in stabilizing the situation. Beginning from July 1990 when the AFSPA was promulgated till date, the Army has been at the forefront of tackling cross border terrorism. On numerous occasions the situation has been brought under control by the armed forces only to resurrect again reflecting the failure of the political establishment and civil society to address the underlying issues that has kept the fire simmering and defying resolution of seven decade old issue.
Killing of Burhan Wani and two other terrorists in a joint operation of Rashtriya Rifles and Special Operations Group of Jammu and Kashmir police on 08 July 2016 was the trigger for rioting and subsequent violence in Kashmir Valley resulting in the death of 47 civilians and injuries to over 300 people following police actions. It is indeed deplorable that the armed forces are being held responsible for instigating violence while they engaged in a legitimate operation to eliminate terrorists who had taken up arms and were seen as the emerging face of terrorist activities in J&K valley.
The buildup of anti national mass hysteria, reaction of main stream media and leading commentators on Jammu and Kashmir seem to have found a new mantra to the solution of Kashmir issue. Mr Mehboob Baig, Chief spokesman of PDP called for the withdrawal of Army from all parts of the country. Similar demands have been made by other leaders in Kashmir as well.
Mr P Chidambram, erstwhile Home Minister in a column in Indian Express (Opinion: dated 24 July) has suggested to the Prime Minister to firstly “Withdraw the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act from a number of areas immediately”, and secondly “Amend AFSPA in the current session of Parliament.” He informs that “a draft Bill is ready and Prime Minister should start work on repealing AFSPA and replacing it with a reasonable law that will give limited immunity to the Armed Forces.” He has also recommended to the Ministry of Defence to draw plans to withdraw as many troops as possible from civilian areas and deploy them closer to border and gradually thinning the presence of Army in interior areas of J&K.
The comments of senior and seasoned politicians asking for withdrawal of AFSPA and Army from civil areas indirectly puts the blame on Army for the current situation in J&K absolving other key players such as terrorists, separatists, local politicians or pro Pak non state activists of their complicity, instrumental in bringing the situation to such a state of affairs.
The continued deployment of Armed Forces in stabilizing the situation to counter insurgencies since independence has come at a cost. Numerous servicemen have sacrificed their lives to uphold the unity and integrity of the nation. Scores have also suffered injuries and disabilities which they have carried from prolonged deployment. Putting the blame at their door is doing disservice to their status as a unifying national outfit.
A few abrasions notwithstanding, the armed forces have conducted themselves with honour and dignity. They have operated within the stipulations, guidelines and rules of engagement as enshrined in the statute books. In fact, armed forces have had almost negligible tolerance to violations of orders. Any deviation from rules has been dealt with strictly invoking strict disciplinary actions.
Continued deployment of armed forces does have its implications and Supreme Court rightly commented on the same holding state and central government to find solution to the festering problem of insurgency.
It is likewise the responsibility of the Army to find out as to when its prolonged deployment is having an adverse impact on situation and prudent for it to advise the relevant quarters as to when the deployment of armed forces would not be in the best interests of the state. A perfect example of such advise was best reflected when Army withstood the pressure to engage itself in anti-naxal operations.
While the continued deployment of Army in J&K may be in order due to sustained support to terrorist activities from across the borders, the use of Army in Manipur (less a few areas from where it has already been withdrawn) and Nagaland calls for a review.
Brig N K Bhatia,SM(Retd) was Chief Instructor of Military Intelligence School. Views expressed are personal.
Brig NK Bhatia