The killing of Hilal Ahmad Bhat, a 25 year old youth, at Bandipora in an alleged staged encounter has once again exposed Kashmir for what it is: a place where death has myriad reasons to visit on the people. In case of Bhat, it took an informer to randomly identify him a terrorist for army to kill him. There was no attempt to verify Dar’s information. That is, if there was no collusion between the accused army personnel and the Dar on the killing.
And just a few days after another man was killed in Shopian. Family members said he was beaten to death by CRPF personnel to whom he supplied water tankers and police clarified he was run over by his own vehicle.
However, thanks to Defence Minister A K Antony’s intervention, Army is probing the Bandipora case. For state government the killing did bolster its case for the revocation of AFSPA – albeit the argument was momentarily set back by the blast on a tourist bus that killed women from Mumbai on the same day that Antony arrived in Valley. Government said it was a fuel cylinder burst that had killed the women but left some room open for the theories of grenade attack.
Argument both for and against AFSPA withdrawal was now precariously poised. While JK Government could cite the staged killing of Bhat, the mysterious nature of the death of tourists offered an alternative perspective on Kashmir.
As expected, Antony said nothing about AFSPA revocation while listening to the Chief Minister Omar Abdullah making a case for its withdrawal. He, however, called for the reduced footprint of the armed forces in the state. Army, on the other hand, is yet to relent on its opposition to even partial lifting of AFSPA. The stand-off has now moved to New Delhi where cabinet is supposed to take a decision on the law.
Army’s contention has been that peace in Kashmir is not for real. It refuses to measure it by the statistics – fewer militants and fewer incidents of violence don’t signify that Kashmir is normal. While it may be true to some extent but by this definition Kashmir can hardly be normal in the foreseeable future. Situation in Valley by its very nature has been uncertain and treacherous. Things can fly off at a tangent. Even in an apparently peaceful period as is the case now, there is always room for the attacks like recent firing on the CRPF in downtown city followed shortly after by the firing at Patha Chowk.
The allegedly staged encounter of a youth at Bandipore makes army also culpable for spoiling the peace. The ideal peace in Kashmir, one which army seeks, is therefore, likely to remain a distant prospect. Kashmir can only be normal in relative terms – Peace in the state is indirectly proportional to the number of violent incidents.
The definition of peace aside, the issue here is about the need to revoke AFSPA. Army’s definition of peace would never make situation conducive for the lifting of the law. That is, until at least Kashmir ceases to be an issue between India and Pakistan. But then is it necessary to withdraw AFSPA? After all, if it is known as a dreaded law, it is the security agencies themselves who have made it so by stonewalling action against the personnel responsible for human rights violations. What if the accused in Pathribal and Machil staged encounters and similar other cases had been brought to book.
There is another question. If AFSPA is revoked, will it really make difference to the ground situation? Perhaps not.
After all, despite assurances to the contrary, state government itself baulked at action against police personnel responsible for the death of 120 youth in 2010 and others in the preceding two years. Best way out is the willingness among the security agencies to act fairly and speedily in case of rights violations. This is the only pragmatic solution under the circumstances. And if they are not willing to do it when they are protected by AFSPA, for sure, they won’t to do it when the law is lifted.