Srinagar/New Delhi: Caught in the crossfire between security forces and separatist
militants for over two decades, Kashmiris say the government must
revoke the controversial Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA)
because the law gives sweeping powers to security personnel in the
state that is inching towards peace.
The Kashmiri on the street feels the act, in place since 1990, has
given Jammu and Kashmir a terror tag, even as peace is seemingly
settling down and tourists are returning to the valley.
People feel the circumstances that forced the implementation of
the law no longer exist.
"Even Western countries have started lifting travel advisories
against Kashmir. When the government itself boasts of peace, why
do we need the AFSPA?" Abdur Rehman, who runs a tourist houseboat
in Srinagar, asked this IANS correspondent.
Rehman and many others think the army does not have a strong
ground to continue with the AFSPA in the Muslim dominated state of
over 10.2 million people. The act was implemented in July 1990
when the armed insurgency backed by Pakistan was at its peak.
Gun-toting men, sporting handgrenades, would fire and bomb at will
wherever they wanted.
The Indian Army's help was taken after the state police and
paramilitary forces failed to curb the reign of terror unleashed
by militants, who were growing in number and strength. They were
also joined by dreaded foreign mercenaries, mostly from Pakistan
More than two decades since, the situation has visibly improved.
Violence and militancy have steeply gone down over the years. The
number of terror strikes in urban areas has been brought down to
almost zero now.
The number of militants present in the entire state, according to
official figures, is less than 500, with all top commanders either
killed or forced to run away to Pakistan.
Citing these reasons, Chief Minister Omar Abdullah has also been
strongly demanding partial withdrawal of the law that has come
under widespread criticism for alleged violation of human rights
by the armed forces.
In its war against cross-border terrorism, the army has been
criticised for alleged human rights violations by misusing the law
that allows any junior officer to use force, even to kill, on a
An officer accused of rights violations can be prosecuted only
after a nod from the central government and the defence ministry.
Over 1,500 cases of human rights violations have been filed
against the army in the last two decades, according to official
The army, according to its own investigation, claims that a
majority of them - 97 percent - have been found to be "fake or
It also refuses to hand over the accused officers to civilian
authorities because it says it has its own internal mechanism to
deal with the "aberrations" of rights violation under the Army
There are many cases in which the army takes recourse to the
iron-fisted AFSPA to contest the prosecution of accused personnel.
Common Kashmiris feel the law should be repealed because the
objective to eliminate terror has largely been achieved. They also
feel it was hampering justice for the families of victims.
"In how many cases of rights violations have you prosecuted
accused officers?" asks human rights lawyer Rubbayya Yasmin.
"None," she adds, because the central government hasn't accorded
"The act should go and it is time to give justice now," Yasmin
The army argues that withdrawing the law, even partially, would
have "serious operational implications" as militancy would raise
its head again. It also argues that partial withdrawal of AFSPA
from selected districts would "only create sanctuaries, which the
terrorists would exploit to rest, regroup and strike again."
But the reason to continue with the act is not taken well by
political and social activists.
Communist Party of India's A.B. Bardhan, a strong advocate of
repealing the law, says the army's reason was tantamount to
holding Kashmir at "gunpoint".
"It means Kashmir can be kept as part of India with the army of
occupation," Bardhan told IANS, adding the time was ripe to
withdraw the act at least from the areas where army is not
"Kashmiris have grievances and repealing the law will give them a
sense of justice, though there is a long way to go," he added.
(Sarwar Kashani can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)