By Firdaus Ahmed
Head bureaucrats of the home and defence ministries and the cabinet secretary reportedly had a pre-Diwali meeting to attend to a divergence between the two ministries that needed attention at the political level. News reports carry unconfirmed reports of the CCS having met to settle the divergence. That no announcement of the retraction of the ‘disturbed areas’ status from parts of J&K have been made since means that the decision is to persist with the AFSPA in its present ambit.
The divergence between the two ministries was therefore not of a trivial level in which the army was merely disputing the disturbed areas status of a few areas. If that was the case it could well have been settled at the Unified HQs level. From governmental reticence it can be inferred that the divergence is more extensive. Self-evidently, the army has weighed in against the rollback of the AFSPA, irrespective of whether normalcy has returned to areas in question or not.
That no announcement has been made of any rollback as had been indicated by Omar Abdullah, reportedly after commiserations from the home minister, implies that the CCS is persuaded with the army’s viewpoint. What is the viewpoint and what are its implications?
The army argues that there are 2500 terrorists in 42 camps across the state. At seven of these camps there are 700 terrorists set to cross. It is no secret that terror infrastructure has not been rolled back by Pakistan. Pakistan is capable of reasserting itself in Kashmir and may do so once its current preoccupation to the west is over. It still has support in the Valley and terrorists inside have been instructed to survive till they are employed. Having the AFSPA rolled back in the interim will generate greater freedom of movement for resurgence in terrorism.
This presumably reinforces the input of agencies such as RAW and IB that the government is privy to. This also perhaps explains the lack of action from the suggestion made by Omar Abdullah that the AFSPA’s imminent retraction will only occur in select areas where the security situation is more permissive of it. However, if it was only a question of security then the government’s inaction could be received with equanimity. But the implications of inaction are graver.
The suggestion that emerges is that the government is unwilling to switch its ‘main effort’ from a military template to a political one. The understanding that the prime minister gave in his interaction with the all party delegation at the end of last summer’s tumult, that the problem in J&K has both internal and external dimensions that require to be addressed politically, stands nullified.
The confidential recommendations in the interlocutors’ report in early October provided an entry point into furthering a political solution. The practicable ones do not need to await the outcome of governmental deliberations. These could have progressed piecemeal along with a modification to AFSPA’s application in J&K, for instance by withdrawal of the disturbed areas status of areas south of the Pir Panjals. That this has not been done indicates not just a lost opportunity but a deliberate government strategy that disallows the switch from military to political.
In other words, the government is not interested in following up on its own tried and tested doctrine that conflict termination can only be through political initiative. The problematic aspect is therefore less about whether the disturbed areas status needs be revoked in some areas and more about the government’s unwillingness to comprehend a political opportunity. That this is not a case of inability is quite clear for India has not been better placed both internally and externally in two decades.
Two significant implications remain. One is that the government expects to be able to handle the external factor. Second, that it would consequently be able to manage the internal fallout, if any. This may well be true. Pakistan is under considerable pressure. However, the understanding that containment as strategy can result in changing its strategic posture is questionable.
But more worrying is the tacit acceptance of the government that it can withstand anything Pakistan throws across with diminished ability in Kashmir. This betrays a willingness to expose the hapless citizenry to machinations from without and the resulting consequences once again.
The AFSPA issue therefore has graver implications. If the understanding here is a misplaced one, then the implication is far worse, namely that the government lacks the credibility to over-rule its military. In other words the military has a veto, making it an issue in civil-military relations.
It is to dispel this unfortunate, if unwitting, message that the government needs to modify the sway of the AFSPA in J&K irrespective of whether it is persuaded by the military case or not.
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