How India Alienated Kashmir

November 10, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Aijaz Zaka Syed, Arab News

Kashmir_mapAN unjust law is no law, warned Martin Luther King, the celebrated US human rights icon. The Kashmiris have been living with such laws for decades. At least one in every five Kashmiris has at some point or another in his/her life suffered violence, humiliation, torture and old-fashioned abuse at the hands of security forces without any recourse to justice or a distant promise of retribution.

The Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act has been a license to abuse, torture and kill the Kashmiris in their own land. A law that confers “special powers” on men in uniform to do as they please and get away with it; a law that the UN says violates “contemporary international human rights standards” and a law that cannot be challenged in any court of law no matter how grave the crime.  

Following the division of the subcontinent in 1947 when India and Pakistan actively courted the princely state of Jammu and Kashmir, it was promised a “special status” and special treatment by New Delhi. The Article 370 of Indian Constitution was supposed to protect that “special status” of Kashmir.  We made a lot of other promises as well that are too familiar to revisit here.      

And we have ensured and protected that “special status” of Kashmir by gifting them the AFSPA that offers sweeping powers to the security forces while ensuring their total immunity. This special law has turned the Vale of Kashmir that the Moguls believed was paradise on earth into a beautiful hell.

Is it any wonder then the Kashmiris today find themselves hopelessly alienated and persecuted even as our politicians never tire of pronouncing the state an “integral and inseparable” part of India?
How did we end up here? Who lost the paradise? The answer is out there and everyone knows it. In our desperation and determination to keep Kashmir with us and away from our neighbor, we have ended up losing the Kashmiri people.

Of course, the role played by Pakistani agencies, not to mention groups such as the one led by Hafiz Saeed, who have made a business enterprise of jihad, in adding to the woes of Kashmiris isn’t in anyway insignificant.

But if an entire generation of Kashmiris has grown up loathing all things Indian it is because of the excessive presence of the security forces in the Valley and their heavy-handed approach to the local population. And if there is one thing that epitomizes all that has gone wrong with India’s Kashmir affair, it is the AFSPA. This black law has created a dangerous, ever deepening disconnect and gulf between the Kashmiris and the rest of India. A draconian law that belongs in a police state, not in the world’s largest democracy.

Thanks to these “special powers”, just about anybody could be picked up from anywhere any time, kicked, abused, raped, killed in broad daylight or simply disappeared and no one including the state government can do anything about it.

Security forces are a law unto themselves. And you see their power in full display all across the state including in capital Srinagar. There are more soldiers than tourists or even locals constantly reminding the Kashmiris of the original sin of being born in this land of incredible beauty. Peaceful protests last year saw scores of young people, some of them as young as nine, felled by the bullets of the forces that are supposed to protect them. In the course of fighting terrorists and cross-border infiltrators, we have turned this beautiful land into a permanent war zone and its proud people a hostage in this never-ending conflict with the neighbor. This war has claimed more than a hundred thousand Kashmiris over the past two decades, not to mention the tens of thousands who have gone “missing.”

If the 2,730 unmarked mass graves recently discovered across the state had been found elsewhere they could have shaken the world, as they did in Srebrenica, in Iraq and Rwanda. But they were met with stony silence in the ever-shrill Indian media and its self-righteous Western counterparts.

Human rights groups including the State Human Rights Commission that finally acted on the complaints of thousands of families of “disappeared persons” unearthing graves with hundreds of bullet riddled bodies fear this may be a tip of the iceberg. The dead in Kashmir have finally begun to speak up, as Arundhati Roy so evocatively puts it.  But justice may still elude the victims as long as the AFSPA reigns in Jammu and Kashmir.  And India’s powerful security and defense establishment, including the army, are determined to retain it. And why wouldn’t they? It’s this law that allows the security forces to rule and treat Kashmir as their fiefdom without anyone, including the elected government, questioning their authority and excesses. Despite being a fine and vibrant democracy with robust democratic institutions and judiciary that we can justifiably be proud of, we are yet to realize that no people can be governed at gunpoint. Not in this age and time. Not with black laws like the AFSPA and not by constantly waving half a million guns that have contributed to the alienation of Kashmiri society and radicalization of its youth.  If India is to win Kashmiri hearts and minds, it could do so only with love, compassion, respect and justice.

— Aijaz Zaka Syed is a Middle East-based commentator and can be reached at aijaz.syed@hotmail.com

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AFSPA & Kashmir

November 3, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Nilofar Suhrawardy, TMO

NEW DELHI: Kashmir is in the news again for wrong reasons. Political leaders and parties are engaged in questioning each other’s intentions regarding their stand on Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K). The issue gained importance when J&K Chief Minister Omar Abdullah voiced his intention to revoke AFSPA from certain parts of AFSPA. It did not take long for Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and right-winged groups associated with saffron brigade to strongly oppose this stand of Abdullah. Congress has also expressed its reservations on Abdullah’s views. Considering that Abdullah heads the J&K government with support of Congress, it has been expressed that before taking any decision on this issue, he needs to hold discussions and take opinion of Congress also. Subsequently, Abdullah indicated that the issue will be taken up by his cabinet after November 7, when the J&K government shifts to its winter capital, which is Jammu.

Clearly, Abdullah has not yet given the impression of having backtracked from his stand on withdrawing AFSPA from certain parts of J&K. At the same time, the political furore raised over the issue also suggests that he probably expressed his own personal opinion on AFSPA without consulting others in his government. There is also the possibility of his having deliberately expressed his stand on AFSPA only to gain an idea of various political opinions regarding the same. Considering that Abdullah is well-aware that withdrawal of AFSPA from any one or more parts of J&K is not in his hands alone, he probably deliberately voiced his intention primarily for some publicity and win over Kashmiris’ support on emotional lines. In other words, withdrawal of AFSPA actually from certain parts of J&K is not his immediate agenda. This point is proved by his decision to take up the issue at the state cabinet meeting after Eid-ul-Zuha. If the issue is taken up, it shall be followed by meetings, discussions, countering opposition and consultations with the central government, which are least likely to be completed in a short period. 

Against this backdrop, it is pertinent to analyze the AFSPA from another angle. Why has it been assumed that Kashmiris are against it? Basically, AFSPA is not confined to J&K alone. In fact, before J&K was covered by it, the armed forces were conferred special powers, as per AFSPA, in Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland and Tripura. The AFSPA was brought in force in these states soon after the act was passed by the Indian Parliament on September 11, 1958. It was extended to J&K in July 1990. 

Legally, in areas proclaimed as “disturbed,” an officer of armed forces has powers to “fire upon,” “use force, even to the causing of death,” against any person “acting in contravention of any law,” “assembly of five or more persons” and/or “possession of deadly weapons.” The act also allows arrest without a warrant, with use of force against any person who has committed a certain offence or is suspected of the same. The act authorizes the officers to enter and search any premise to make arrests.

The AFSPA also gives army officers legal immunity for their actions. The legal immunity, however, prevails for actions taken as per the AFPSA. This also implies that if army officers falsely justify their acts as per the power granted to them by AFPSA, they can be subject to prosecution, suit or any other legal proceeding. Against this backdrop, it is relevant to probe a little into how AFSPA has been understood, rather misunderstood, where J&K is concerned. It may be noted, situations in J&K have usually escalated to stage of crisis due to a confrontation between unarmed civilians and the police. In recent past, the involvement of forces and the militants has not been responsible for any major disturbance in the region. The affected Kashmiris have not yet recovered fully from last year’s tension between the civilians and the state-police. More than 100 people, including school children, fell victim to state-controlled bullets last year. Among the first to fall victim was a student Tufail Ahmad Mattoo. He was hit by a teargas shell fired by the police on June 11, 2010. The police was chasing a crowd of stone pelters at Rajouri Kadal. Mattoo was not a part of the crowd. To this day, his family members are waiting for justice. As per AFSPA or any other law, neither the army nor the state police can “legitimize” use of force that led to death of Mattoo. Not surprisingly, Mattoo’s death triggered protests throughout J&K. It is the death of Mattoo and other innocent civilians, who are targeted by state-controlled bullets that raises the question as to why has strict action not been taken against those responsible for these killings.

The army and police, it may be pointed out, fall under two different departments. Understandably, though AFSPA grants armed forces certain special powers in disturbed areas, it does not grant the same to the police. Also, as mentioned earlier, even soldiers are not granted legal immunity if their actions are not as per the norms laid out by AFSPA.

It may take months, even years before AFSPA is lifted from certain areas of J&K. The issue may remain confined to debates and discussions. In this context, rather than indulge only in deliberations and debates on whether AFSPA should be lifted or not, it is imperative to examine carefully whether the act is being strictly adhered to by the army officers and whether police too are taking shelter under AFSPA for their crimes. Omar Abdullah should ensure that strict action is taken against those accused of violating/abusing AFSPA.

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