AFSPA removal: Omar unpopularity triggers demand
Chief Minister Omar Abdullah has trained his guns on the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) as a device to deflect public anger against the inertia and maladministration of his regime, his personal unpopularity having scaled unprecedented heights.
This much is clear: the bells are tolling for the dynasty of Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah; the end is nigh. The young Abdullah scion – despite having the party and the State handed over to him on a platter – has not been able to grow in stature while in office. Omar is fully aware that he won the assembly election three years ago only because of the boycott call given by Syed Ali Shah Geelani.
In the recent local body elections in September, people voted in record numbers and the People’s Democratic Party won nearly 70 percent of the seats (hence neither power nor paisa is being devolved to the panchayats). With Congress upping the ante with the demand for revolving chief ministership, young Abdullah suddenly finds himself upon a slippery slope.
Adding to his woes is a deep financial crisis: the economic crunch has forced the Centre to curtail the massive doles routinely dished out to the State; now utilization certificates are sought before release of the next installment of Central aid (the standard practice with all ‘normal’ States). This has put an abrupt check on the financial profligacy of the political elite, at the precise moment when the public has begun demanding development – electricity, roads, water – as the State has witnessed nearly three years of peace (barring the stone-throwing drama of summer 2010).
In response, the chief minister has announced a new recruitment policy wherein persons employed by the State Government will receive only 50% of basic pay for the first two years of service, and 75% for the next three years, minus allowances.
This scandalous policy means that government employees would work on starvation wages for a straight five years, and there is no gainsaying that a subsequent administration would be able to make up the arrears due to them. As years of militancy have ensured that there is virtually no private sector in the state and all employment is with the government, this has fuelled mass rage against the regime.
Over the past week, huge protests and rallies have been held in Jammu province against this anti-youth job policy. Colleges have shut down in protest; the future is uncertain, though the High Court has stayed the new recruitment policy. Agitated youth are demanding that such policies be implemented for the cabinet and the state bureaucrats. Organisations like the Youth of Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh (YJKL) have sprung up to reflect the growing anger and many social organisations have joined the protests.
It bears mentioning that the anger and protests are loudest in Jammu province, where most youth are well educated and qualified, and in need of employment.
Salahuddin and AFSPA
Creeping winter is always a time when terrorist organisations across the border try to infiltrate the maximum number of men into Kashmir. This year is no different. Indeed, informed sources say that Pak-based Syed Salahuddin, commander of the Muttahida Jihad Council, is preparing to push about 1000 volunteers across the Line of Control, to organise a ‘big event’ in India, as has been done in the past in Afghanistan. This is therefore the most inopportune time for the chief minister to demand withdrawal of the Army from the State.
Yet, after meeting with the unified command on Nov. 9, the novice CM insisted that he was not going to listen to the Army on AFSPA and that the law would have to be withdrawn from certain areas. It is learnt that Lt. Gen. K.T. Parnaik, General Officer C-in-C, Northern Command, sought to make him understand that Jammu and Kashmir is a national issue and that AFSPA is required to fight insurgency; but Omar remained adamant.
Political observers feel that by disregarding the sacrifices made by our jawans in defending our borders and maintaining internal security, the Chief Minister is politicizing matters to divert attention from the real problems facing the people, and scandals like corruption and the mysterious death of his father’s close associate, Syed Mohammad Yousuf.
Unfortunately, he seems to have got support from Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram to pursue this dangerous line, though some course correction has been made by Defence Minister A.K. Antony who made it clear that the Cabinet Committee on Security had decided last year itself that the final decision would be taken only by the Unified Command Headquarters in J&K. This virtually nixes Omar Abdullah’s boast that “As chief minister of the state, I have the authority to lift AFSPA.” He does not.
At the meeting of the unified command, the Army explained the importance of AFSPA in fighting militancy in the state and insisted that partial withdrawal would undermine the security apparatus and affect its capacity to conduct counter insurgency operations. Lt Gen Parnaik emphasized this when he reportedly said that AFSPA enabled the Army to act, and removing it from certain areas would make operations difficult.
If, as suggested by Omar Abdullah, AFSPA is removed from some cities or towns which have been peaceful for awhile, it will accentuate problems long-term as these areas will soon become places for terror cells to hide and regroups their energies and supplies. This would inevitably trigger fresh violence, which would cost many lives, including civilian lives, before peace could be restored again. Worse, any action in these non-AFSPA areas would have to be undertaken without the protection of the Cordon and Search Operations of the army; in other words, the forces would have to fight with one arm behind their backs.
New Delhi is fully aware that the terrorist infrastructure in the valley is intact. Military sources warn that the separatists have utilized the peace to entrench themselves in the state; hence reports that Salahuddin is planning a fevered ingress across the Line of Control are being taken very seriously as the unified command is determined not to lose an inch to the enemy. Sources agree that while terrorist incidents have reduced in the current year, the number of attempts to infiltrate the border have risen sharply - 55 infiltrators were killed this year alone. This proves the strategy of ‘proxy war’ is very much alive in Islamabad.
Recent reports suggest that Pakistan may have altered its tactics and may try to project terrorism in J&K as an indigenous struggle (sic). This would give it diplomatic leverage in the form of plausible deniability. Indeed, Pakistan Interior Minister Rehman Malik’s unexpected declamation in Maldives that Ajmal Kasab was a terrorist and deserved to be hanged for his role in the Mumbai 2008 carnage, may be viewed as part of this approach. Interestingly, Malik did not say who had sent Kasab and his fellow commandos to Mumbai, and Indian media persons were too witless to ask if his statement amounted to some kind of admission.
Be that as it may be, New Delhi cannot lose sight of the fact that the training camps on the other side of the border are still intact, as is the channel by which arms and ammunition reach J&K.
The cumulative effect of all these factors reportedly provoked Lieutenant-General Syed Ata Hasnain, commander of the Srinagar-based XV Corps, to bluntly inform the unified command members that India could well be forced to give J&K independence by 2016 if AFSPA is removed.
This is neither rhetoric nor laughing matter.
As the American sponsored arc of violence and war moves from Iraq and Afghanistan to Pakistan, India would do well to heed the warning. An independent Kashmir has always been a Western colonial agenda, and the White Colonials have long memories with advance blueprints for war and conquest.
As Washington accentuates its rivalry with Beijing, and the old Russia reasserts for respect in the comity of nations, an independent Kashmir as military base – and not as an Asian Switzerland – would be quite high on the list of priorities. It is no accident that this is precisely the time that Christian evangelism is making fresh strides in the valley. Church and Empire have ever gone hand in hand.
It is learnt that the Home Ministry appointed interlocutors recommended lifting AFSPA. This could be one reason why the Centre has quietly put a lid on its promise to give copies of their report to all political parties in the State.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this writing are solely of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of League of India, its Editorial Board or the business and socio-political interests that they might represent.
This article was first published on Vijayvaani website here