Interlocutors too put weight behind proposals to repeal, amend AFSPA

Interlocutors too put weight behind proposals to repeal, amend AFSPA

14 April 2012
The Daily Excelsior
Mohinder Verma

Jammu: After the Jeevan Reddy Commission, Prime Ministerís Working Group and the Ministry of Home Affairs, the Dileep Padgaonkar-led panel of interlocutors has also put weight behind the proposals to repeal or amend the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) and suggested that Defence Ministry should respond positively to the issue rather than negatively. The panel has also recommended the framing of a Judicial Commission for identification of all the bodies in the unmarked graves in the State of Jammu and Kashmir. The Prime Ministerís Working Group on Confidence Building Measures had recommended reviewing the Disturbed Areas Act and AFSPA and lifting the former and revoking the latter if possible. Similarly, Jeevan Reddy Commission had proposed repeal of AFSPA and incorporation of some of its provisions into a new national law, to be called the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act. Moreover, the Union Ministry of Home Affairs had also recommended several amendments to the AFSPA to bring it in line with the Criminal Procedure Code while allowing protections for the armed forces that exist in every democratic country. While making reference of all these recommendations in their report, the interlocutors have observed, 'AFSPA is more the symbol of a problem than its cause. But symbols are important for peace processes thus the Defence Ministry must consider how to respond positively rather than negatively to the proposals for repeal of and amendments to the AFSPA', the report said, adding 'these proposals should be viewed by MoD and a decision taken at the earliest'. 'The goal is to arrive at a situation in which troops will be deployed only at the borders. A step-by-step process would begin with the Army remaining in barracks and transferring any civilian policing duties to the paramilitary, with their onward transfer to the Jammu and Kashmir Police', the report said, adding 'this step has already been taken in most urban areas but could be consolidated in rural areas'. About reviewing the military deployments to see whether security installations can be rationalized through reducing their spread to a few strategic locations and creating mobile units for rapid response, the report said, 'the desire for redeployment of military or security forces and installations, created as part of counter-insurgency operations, and not prior cantonments, from the rural areas of Jammu and Kashmir is a heartfelt desire that unites the regional political parties and dissident groups', adding 'given the large reduction in militancy-related violence, some thinning or strategic concentration of installations is worth considering'. Pointing to the absence of a formal commitment to ceasefire or disbandment as one of the obstacles to redeployment, the report said, 'such a commitment would have made security reforms much easier to implement'. 'The Prime Minister's Working Group on CBMs had suggested that an unconditional dialogue with armed groups be initiated and some steps were taken during the Quiet Diplomacy of 2008-09. However, since then the issue has not come up again, and it needs to be put back on the agenda'. 'Even in the absence of commitments from armed groups to ceasefire, disarm and demobilize, such reforms still need to be considered', the report said, adding 'all the delegations which met the interlocutors were explicit in their view that troops should be concentrated on the borders and LoC to prevent infiltration and phased withdrawal of troops from residential and agricultural areas should be considered'. Referring to large number of gross human rights violations by a variety of groups, including murder and torture, the report said, 'the issue gained prominence with the investigation into unmarked graves, many of which contain bodies of militants killed in counter-insurgency and some of which are alleged to be of missing persons'. Recommending setting up of a Judicial Commission to establish the best procedures for identification of the bodies in the unmarked graves, the report said, 'the commission would see whether any of the bodies match the DNA of the families of the disappeared persons. The final step would be to try to identify all the bodies in the unmarked graves, and this would depend on cooperation from Pakistan'. 'The exercise will be a massive and time-consuming one, and all concerned should be prepared to face the fact that they might not, in the end, have the full closure that they need', it added About the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) proposed by Chief Minister, Omar Abdullah, the report said, 'even if justice cannot be provided for all victims of violence, if some of those guilty of human rights abuses, including militants, were to ask forgiveness from the families of their victims, it would provide closure for many'. A TRC, it said, would also have a large impact in Pakistan, altering the 'Kashmir narrative' in fundamental ways. On the military-to-military CBMs agreed between the Governments of India and Pakistan, such as hotlines between commanders of Border Security Forces, the report said their implementation needed to be reviewed and any remaining gaps filled up.