Demand For Changes In AFSPA For Political Gains : Army Chief26 June 2010
New Delhi: Amid moves by the political leadership to make the controversial Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) 'more humane', Army Chief Gen VK Singh has voiced his opposition to any change, saying demands for dilution of the Act were being made for 'narrow political gains'. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has promised amendments to the Act that gives sweeping powers to the Army in Jammu and Kashmir and the North East, to make it more humane. Home Minister P Chidambaram is also known to be in favour of diluting some of the provisions of the Act. The Home Ministry has finalised its views and sent a note to the Union Cabinet. Comments of the ministries of Defence and Law have been sought before the Cabinet Committee on Security considers amendments. Describing AFSPA as a 'misunderstood Act', Army Chief told a defence journal, 'all who ask for its dilution or withdrawal, probably do so for narrow political gains'. Any dilution 'will lead to constraining our operations', he said. He went on to emphasise, 'we are very clear on the subject that soldiers operating in hostile environment need legal protection to ensure that they perform their tasks efficiently'. Killings of three Kashmiri youths by the Army in a suspected fake encounter in Machil in Kupwara district on April 29 has sparked off widespread protests in the Valley and strengthened the demand for amending the Act. Chief Minister Omar Abdullah as well as political parties in the state are clamouring for dilution of the Act so that any Army personnel involved in extra-judicial killings are held accountable through civilian legal process rather than Army's internal mechanisms. But, Gen Singh has maintained during the interview that 'adequate measures have been instituted at organisational and functional levels to ensure that the powers entrusted through the Act are not misused'. Security forces are required to undertake operations in J and K in 'challenging circumstances' against highly-trained terrorists armed and equipped with sophisticated weapons, the General said, adding, 'therefore, we need requisite legal protection'.