Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA)

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  • Parag Bisht asked: What is the solution to the insurgency problem in Manipur? Should AFSPA be repealed?

    Vivek Chadha replies: It is very difficult to suggest a solution to a problem as complex as prevailing in Manipur. The state is captive to a number of unfortunate and complex competing realities which probably makes it the most difficult insurgency to resolve. Manipur has a diverse ethnic population with Meitis controlling the Valley, Nagas on the surrounding hills and Kukis interspersed in between. There are a number of other smaller tribal groups as well. First, there are competing interests between the Nagas and Meitis. The demand for Nagalim or Greater Nagaland includes the Naga inhabited areas of Manipur. In fact, Muivah, the leader of the most powerful Naga insurgent group NSCN (IM), belongs to Manipur. On the other hand, the Meitis want to preserve what has been a single geographic entity for centuries. They have also traditionally controlled both the political and economic power in the region. However, this is getting threatened as a result of different ethnic loyalties and affiliations. Similarly Kukis also seek their rights in the fragmented society. Even amongst the Meitis there are different groups supporting insurgent groups which further their interests. The insurgent groups are also affiliated with political parties which makes it a marriage of convenience between the gun and political power as well as funding. Thus there are vested interests in keeping the insurgency going. Insurgency is also increasingly seen as a profitable business and insurgencies have in reality morphed into criminal activity.

    A solution to the problem lies in the people of the state rejecting this fragmented political setup and collectively deciding to fight for a better life than being given by their leaders. While the blame generally tends to be placed on the Central Government for all ills of the state, in reality the mismanagement and corruption within is eating away the local system. Second, people will have to rise above their petty local politics and think of their state and country to gain from the progress being made. After all industry and tourism can only flourish through peace. Third, given the excellent education levels, more people should join the national mainstream through central jobs, employment in the private sector and bring a fresh perspective to the area.

    AFSPA is more a perceptional problem rather than a legal one. If one was to look beyond a few cases of alleged human rights violations, it will be proved that it is not the law which is the reason for excesses. The local police in my experience is more high handed in their dealing than the army. However, given the prevailing perceptions, there is a need to ensure that greater transparency is brought in. There should also be improvement in the law to include the Do's and Dont's sanctioned by the Supreme Court. Some provisions can be relooked to make the law more in touch with prevailing realities.

    It should also be borne in mind that the army can only operate if an area is declared disturbed. The law is redundant in the absence of this notification. And it is up to the government to decide whether an area is disturbed or not. Once that is done, the army has no choice but to come to the aid of civil authorities.

    Hans Raj Singh asked: Why the people of Manipur want AFSPA to be repealed? Which section of AFSPA does Irom Sharmila wants to be repealed?

    Namrata Goswami replies: The people of Manipur want the AFSPA repealed because they view it as repressive law which denies them their fundamental rights. According to the AFSPA, a person can be arrested without warrant on mere suspicion, without evidence, that he or she is supporting insurgencies. This has created a militarized political space, which curtails civil liberties, in their viewpoint.

    I do not think Irom Sharmila is fasting for the repeal of one particular section of the AFSPA. She wants the act in its entirety to be repealed.

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    Bhujaya Bhowmik asked: Is not the crisis over "AFSPA" a result of some major strategic errors of the Government of India?

    K C Dixit replies: India’s approach in dealing with the separatists has been more than democratic and unusually humane, giving them considerable political space despite their abrasive anti-national postures. India has allowed them to meet external adversaries in its own capital city and travel to foreign countries for garnering political and financial support.

    India has always favoured a political solution to Kashmir problem. In 1947, India gave up the military option by appealing to the United Nations for a negotiated political solution. Again, in 1965 India chose the political way out to find a solution, even restoring the strategic Haji Pir Pass to Pakistan to show political flexibility. Yet again in 1971, India allowed its long term political considerations over-ride short term perspectives. It did not stop here and agreed to the ambiguous 1972 Simla Agreement. India has taken measures like visit to Pakistan by Prime Minister, de-escalation of Kargil conflict by non-retaliatory actions at the LoC, back-channel dialogue with Pakistan, allowing travel and trade across the LoC in J&K, running Lahore Bus Service etc. While the government feels that it is dealing with its own people, the separatists do not think they are Indians.

    Any revision or removal of AFSPA from selected valley districts – rightly resisted by the armed forces – is a red herring as the current protests have been provoked by the police and not military action. Any concession under duress will become the baseline for further demands by the separatists in the next phase of their agitation.

    India has been categorically rejecting the right to self-determination by the separatists and wants a solution within the framework of its constitution, which implies that the separatists must accept that J&K belongs to India and no dispute over its status exists. It is high time that the softness in handling separatists is examined fully in the interest of the nation’s sovereignty and any attempt to challenge Indian Statehood by the separatists be dealt with firmly, leaving no room for violence in the society.

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