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AFSPA Must Go
If the government wants the story of Kashmir to change, it needs to convince itself that indeed normalcy has returned

Security Personnels in J&K Pravin Sawhney and Ghazala Wahab

Srinagar: Will he, won’t he was the fiercely contested question in the Kashmir Valley. A week before the traditional durbar (state administration) was to move to the winter capital of Jammu, chief minister Omar Abdullah announced that his government has decided to revoke Armed Forces (Special Power) Act (AFSPA) from four towns, two each in Jammu and Kashmir. Even as the Union Cabinet secretary, accompanied by secretaries of defence and home, landed in Srinagar on October 24 to review developments on various fronts, rumours circulated that the chief minister is likely to succumb to the pressure from the Union government (read, the ministry of defence). While the chief minister was huddled with the central government emissaries, his uncle, and newly–appointed spokesperson of the National Conference (he also holds the office of additional general secretary), Dr Mustafa Kamal told FORCE, “As far as AFSPA is concerned, we have to take everyone onboard. We cannot be on the wrong side of the government of India.

This has been the governing principal of National Conference enunciated by my father Sheikh Abdullah.” This further fuelled the rumour machinery that perhaps, Omar Abdullah had spoken too soon and he will allow himself to be persuaded otherwise. However, by evening rumour mills were spinning a different yarn. Omar Abdullah was quoted by some local news channels as saying that the decision on the revocation of the Act from Srinagar, Budgam, Jammu and Udhampur would be taken before the Durbar moves to Jammu. “That gives him less than a week to swing it,” remarked one local journalist. “I think he has bitten more than he can chew. The AFSPA issue has been hanging fire for many years but no chief minister has had the courage to revoke it even when the situation had become nearly normal during Mufti Mohammed Sayeed’s and early part of Ghulam Nabi Azad’s tenures. How can he do it?” Apparently, the then northern army commander had suggested partial revocation of the Act to chief minister Ghulam Nabi Azad in 2008.
 
Being a Congressman first, Azad declined the advice.In the autumn of 2011, before the leaves of Chinar turned red announcing the onset of the long, dank winter, the issue was not about the politics of AFSPA or its impact on the lives of the civilians. The question was of Omar Abdullah’s courage and Indian Army’s resistance with more people putting their money on the latter. “The army will never allow the chief minister to revoke AFSPA,” said a local businessman and part-time activist, who did not want to be named for the sake of his business.But if the government decides to revoke AFSPA, how can the army stop that decision from being implemented? After all, imposition or revocation of AFSPA is the state government’s prerogative.  
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The businessman laughed at the naiveté of the question. “The only government we know is the army,” he retorted. “The army rules Kashmir, the state government is a mere puppet. It will do what the army tells it to do. If indeed the state government was more powerful than the army, won’t it be able to prosecute the officers and soldiers involved in innocent killings? Do you know how many complaints and investigation reports are sent to Delhi every year by the state government seeking its permission to prosecute the accused army personnel? Only a fraction gets the government sanction for prosecution and even then the army stalls the legal process at every step. Who is more powerful then?” he asked.
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