Healing Kashmir – I AFSPA debate

While doctors, faith healers and all others engaged in healing the ill and pain stricken may not have much in common, they nevertheless agree on one point- that once the cause of the malady is removed, the body is automatically cured. This dictum being a matter of fact statement has universal applicability. However, the process of healing is not as simple as it sounds, for the main problem lies not in curing a malady, but in accurately identifying what is causing it. So is the case with Kashmir. Afflicted with the malaise of Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), its people have continued to suffer for over two decades.



And though many of the learned and wise have said, analyzed and written volumes about the manifestation of this ‘ailment’ and the widespread agony it produces, a remedy for it has thus far eluded us, as few have tried to honestly identify its causes .

All of us want that the AFSPA must go- but it is still there. The international community and human right organisations too have repeatedly flayed New Delhi for the same, but surprisingly, stopped short of initiating any concrete measures to effect its removal. This makes it amply clear that despite promises and assurances;

ultimately, it is for us and us alone to remedy this malaise. However, the main problem once again lies in our over obsession with the ailment and instead of concentrating on its causes, we by prescribing to ‘grand conspiracy’ theories and rumours, are deceiving ourselves into believing that being victims of intentional and premeditated prosecution, we are helpless in remedying this.

While there certainly may be some merit in such apprehensions, the fact of the matter is that AFSPA will not go merely by our crying hoarse, complaining or even protesting – we have already tried all this out for over two decades. And it is precisely because of this that our leaders must change their outlook, as this line of treatment for ‘eradicating’ AFSPA has unfortunately not worked!

J&K has been under AFSPA since 1990. While New Delhi may have been looking for an opportunity to militarily ‘crush’ the ‘right to self determination’ movement,  it did not do so till the entry of the Kalashnikov in the State gave New Delhi a ‘perfectly legal’ excuse to rush in additional security forces and empower them with sweeping powers under the AFSPA. The mass exodus of Kashmiri Pandits (whether voluntarily or by design) strengthened New Delhi’s case as it became easy to convince the international community that militancy in J&K was a violent ‘anti-people’ movement making it incumbent on the government to impose AFSPA for ‘safeguarding’ public life and property. Since then, New Delhi has been lucky, as it has been able to periodically publicise the ‘existence of a ‘Kashmir link’ to major terrorist acts either directly (as in the Parliament attack case) or indirectly (involvement of Lashkar-e-Toiba, which is active in Kashmir, being behind the Mumbai attacks).   

Continued violence in Kashmir has facilitated New Delhi’s sinister design of maintaining a large presence of security forces in the State. In fact, militancy has come as a boon in disguise for New Delhi, which has capitalised on the same by launching a diplomatic offensive in projecting it as ‘State sponsored terrorism’ by Pakistan. Readers will recall it was in the 90’s that America, by suddenly abandoning its support for implementation of the UN resolutions, changed its principled stand of considering the Kashmir issue as an international problem and not only reduced it to a ‘bilateral issue’ between India and Pakistan, but also declared that it required no ‘third party’ intervention. Whereas America has never explained its volte-face on Kashmir, the timing of the same coinciding with transformation of the ongoing Kashmir struggle from a peaceful movement into an armed conflict does raise some disquieting doubts.

Going back to the issue of curing maladies- when a particular line of treatment fails to provide any relief and aggravates the problem, then both doctors and faith healers alike, discontinue the same and adopt a new therapy. Militancy has gone on for over two decades but got us nowhere nearer to our goal of achieving the ‘right to self determination’. On the contrary, militancy has provided New Delhi the ‘reason’ to justify imposition of AFSPA in J&K  by declaring that terrorism and insurgency posed ‘existential threats’ to the country as was evident during the last Universal Periodic Review of human rights record conference held in the UN Headquarters at Geneva. Readers will recall that during his speech at this conference, the Attorney General of India had said that, “There are threats to the fabric of our country. Our country has been the target of terrorist activities over the last three decades.”

Though he avoided any direct mention of J&K, the cleverly worded statement referring to “terrorist activities over the last three decades,” was clearly directed towards Kashmir. And since no one objected to this, it is apparent that ‘terrorism’ being India’s raison d’être for imposing AFSPA in J&K has been accepted by the international community.

Let us therefore explore a hypothetical situation to combat the scourge of AFSPA. What if the militants decide to give up their ‘armed struggle’? Will New Delhi then have reasons like ‘existential threats’ and ‘threats to the fabric of our country’ to justify continuation of the AFSPA in J&K? Will it then be able to project itself as “the target of terrorism”? The answer is an emphatic and univocal ‘No’. Presently, the international community has been tolerating excesses committed by security forces in the State by conceding to India’s exaggerated claims of ‘terrorism in J&K’ by giving New Delhi the ‘benefit of doubt’. This is because nations follow an unwritten but important diplomatic protocol of not intervening whenever an internal armed conflict situation exists in a country, as this may be misconstrued as ‘interference’ in its internal affairs. However, once  the very cause of its perceived ‘existential threats’ and ‘threats to the fabric of the country’ are nonexistent,  AFSPA automatically becomes irrelevant due to which, New Delhi can no longer afford to keep the AFSPA operational in J&K and any attempts to do so would certainly not be acceptable to the international community!.

The author can be mailed at niloofar.qureshi@yahoo.com