Valley: PM tells Home, Defence to sort out differences on AFSPA

Pranab Dhal Samanta

In the wake of the recent unrest in Kashmir, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is learnt to have asked the ministries of Defence and Home to try and resolve their differences over amending the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA). The Army, however, has again laid out its concerns to the Defence Ministry, emphasising that it needs adequate protection for its personnel.

The other option on the table, according to sources, is the suspension or withdrawal of the AFSPA from certain districts where the Army is not deployed. However, the Army has reportedly cited the case of Manipur where the Act was withdrawn from the Imphal area leading to an exponential rise in extortion and killings in Imphal and the Greater Imphal area. It has also flagged the greater security implications of lifting the AFSPA from certain areas in the Valley.

The Home Ministry, on its part, had suggested a range of amendments to make the AFSPA appear less draconian but the key area of difference is on replacing the phrase “use force, even to the causing of death” against any person who breaks law and order with language reflecting minimum use of force. The Army, on the other hand, is of the view that such language could be interpreted differently by courts on what constitutes “minimum force”. The Defence Ministry has until now backed the Army view on this.

The Army has conveyed to the Defence Ministry that it does not want to be an obstacle to any amendments to the Act as long as three key concerns are addressed namely —- sufficient legal protection when an Army personnel has to shoot to kill; protection when there is collateral damage during a military action or death in cross fire; and protection when a search has to be carried out.

The Home Ministry has argued that it understands the concerns of the military and, therefore, key provisions of the Act will continue to remain but some changes have become necessary in order to build confidence among people.

While there is no apparent disagreement on the need to build public confidence, the Army has argued that much of the protests that have occurred in the Kashmir Valley in recent days have been in cities and towns already vacated by the Army. The rationale being given is that law and order in these places is under police or paramilitary control, which does not enjoy powers in the AFSPA and so the linkage with the Act is dubious.

As of now, the Centre has asked the State to first ensure law and order before it can consider the political package which Abdullah is keen on delivering. But amending AFSPA or its selective withdrawal are key elements of that package and clearly, the differences run deep.