Wednesday, 30 May 2012

AFSPA: A Practical Approach

Even as the battle against the AFSPA is set to continue, it is equally clear that the Act is not going to be amended any time soon. The Air Chief in his capacity of Chairman Chiefs of Staff Committee has seconded the earlier statement of the Army Chief on the necessity of the legal cover that the legislation provides soldiers, acting in aid of civil power in counter insurgency. The Northern Army Commander has voiced the Army sentiment on the issue, even if his choice of phrase – ‘pious’ – has come in for uncalled for derision among critics; evidence of frustration at their ineffectual activism.

The spin on current agitations in Kashmir is that these are either about lack of governance or the wider issue of ‘azadi’. A report in the Times of India (Aarti Jerath, ‘On ground it’s a battle for azadi, not against AFSPA’, 25 September 2010) has it that alluding to the AFSPA, as being done by the Chief Minister, is therefore diversionary. At best the Cabinet Committee on Security meeting early this week to discuss the visit of the All Party delegation to Kashmir last week could roll back the application of the Act in areas where it is no longer needed, such as south of the Pirpanjals.

It would be a travesty if this is where the matter is left off, for it is sure to figure in controversy again. This is not because the Army is not cognizant of the need to respect human rights and legal obligations in countering insurgency. Indeed, the need figures prominently in its 2006Doctrine for Sub Conventional Operations. It has since brought out comprehensive stipulations in line with Supreme Court directions in its ruling on the constitutional viability of the Act. The chain of command has been sufficiently sensitized to being severe on this score. There exists a human rights cell at every level of the hierarchy. The statistics periodically released suggest that up to 97 per cent cases proved to be baseless.

These are useful steps. For human rights concerns to be at the fore during the winding down phase of counter insurgency is understandable. The intensity of insurgency and operations having gone down, in any case; the Army can afford to be more circumspect in its footprint. Population control measures are less in evidence as operations are fewer and intelligence based. It is easier to be mindful of human rights in such conditions, especially those under media scrutiny.

It bears questioning as to whether they would measure up to the test of high intensity counter insurgency operations in future. Absent a political initiative, potential for reversion in the situation is very much there, both in Kashmir and the North East. Prospects of deployment in counter insurgency in Central India exist, as also in other areas in future given the multiple challenges a developing India will continue to face.

Precedence, the nature of Indian approach and foreign examples of counter insurgency indicate that the state - perhaps rightly to some - would prioritize self-preservation over human rights of alienated citizens. As before, it would overly monitor the human rights record till the situation is well under control. In effect, security forces would be permitted the leeway necessary to cope. The argument that India’s record has been better than most other militaries in such situations legitimizes such an approach.

However, the counter to the AFSPA in civil society and in the affected areas should provoke the government towards a more practical look at the measures for self-regulation within the Army. The military is not monolithic. A ‘warrior’ subculture tends to accord lesser priority to niceties than winning the martial contest against the militant, viewed as ‘terrorist’ and a proxy of the ‘Other’, the ‘enemy’. Quantification of performance linked to promotion prospects and rewards of unit performance amounted once to an institutional pathology. Considerably controlled since, the current Chief has reportedly ordered a rethink on the quantification of officers’ performance.

Additionally, the recruiting base of the military being confined to North India, makes it difficult for the leadership to comprehend the wellsprings of the challenge to the state. For instance, of the 235 commissioned as officer from OTA, Chennai, on 17 Mar 2007, 149 were from this region (39 - UP, 23 - Rajasthan, 19 - Haryana, 16 - Punjab, 16 - Himachal, 14 - Uttaranchal, 11 - J&K, 8 - Delhi and 3 – Chandigarh). The ratio remains representative. This makes for a ‘mainstream’ perception. Political attitudes in the lower middle classes here end up commanding an inordinate influence.

Credence to the expertise of the Army in its recommendation on the AFSPA is set to carry the day. Yet, even as the Army deepens internal vigilance, its institutional limitations need to be borne in mind. This implies that the onus of human rights overwatch is with the Ministry and state governments. A liberal use of Article six provisions permitting prosecutions is warranted. The bogey of ‘morale’ should be left to ministrations of the hierarchy, for which it is paid. 

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