Centre on AFSPA, Troops Withdrawal in J&K

Kashmir Magazine

TKM Desk
Union Home Minister Amit Shah has said the Centre will consider revoking Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act from Jammu and Kashmir and that it has a roadmap to withdraw troops from the Union Territory.
In an interview to Gulistan News - a local news channel, Shah said that the government will surely consider revoking AFSPA from Jammu and Kashmir in the future. “The situation is getting normal and we are speedily considering on revoking the AFSPA from Jammu and Kashmir and a state of change is being considered,” he added.
On being asked about decreasing the footprints of security forces in J&K in view of improved law and order situation, the Union Home Minister said that the government has already drawn a roadmap for the withdrawal of troops and that the process will be initiated after elections.
“We have plans to withdraw troops and leave law and order to the Jammu and Kashmir Police alone. Earlier, the J&K police was not trusted by New Delhi but today they are at the forefront to tackle any situation,” he said.
He said that earlier CRPF and security forces would handle the law and order situation, but now the government has empowered the J&K Police and it is now at the forefront to handle any situation.
“We are strengthening the J&K police and it has now stood on its feet. Most of the encounters are being conducted by the police now. We only give central forces as a support to them and a culture has changed.”
He said that the process for withdrawal for troops has already been initiated, which is why J&K police is at the forefront.
With assembly elections likely to be held in September this year in J&K, Shah said, “Enshrining democracy in Jammu and Kashmir is Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s promise and it will be fulfilled. However, this democracy will not be confined to three families alone and will be a people’s democracy.”
AFSPA was introduced across troubled areas of the country in three separate acts, the Armed Forces Special Powers (Assam and Manipur) Act, 1958; The Armed Forces (Punjab and Chandigarh) Special Powers Act, 1983; and The Armed Forces (Jammu and Kashmir).
AFSPA has been imposed in the Northeast, Jammu & Kashmir, and Punjab during the militancy years. Punjab was the first state from which it was repealed, followed by Tripura and Meghalaya. It remained in force in Nagaland, Manipur, Assam, J&K, and parts of Arunachal Pradesh.
The Act gives special powers to the Indian Army to maintain peace in areas, which were considered “disturbed” by the Centre.
The Act is controversial as it empowers security personnel to use force and shoot as deemed fit to maintain public order. It also grants soldiers executive powers to enter premises, search, and arrest without a warrant on the basis of “reasonable suspicion”. It allows the armed forces to open fire, even causing death, against any person in contravention to the law or carrying arms and ammunition.
The Supreme Court in its 1998 order upheld the constitutionality of AFSPA, and said a suo-motu declaration can be made by the Central Government; however, it is desirable that the state government should be consulted by the Centre before making the declaration.
Historically, AFSPA was introduced by the British to stop the Quit India Movement in 1942 launched by Mahatma Gandhi. The Act was implemented on August 15, 1942.
Is there any need of AFSPA in J&K further?
The Centre introduced the Act in J&K in 1990s as it believed several parts of the J&K were disturbed, and defence forces should be given power to maintain peace in the region. It was implemented during the rise of militancy in the Union Territory.
The then J&K government declared Kashmir Valley as a disturbed area under Section 3 of AFSPA. Later, in August 2001, it extended provision to Jammu province.
Since the Abrogation of Article 370, militancy related incidents have declined in the J&K, paving the way for the Centre to consider the need to remove AFSPA in the region.
During the BJP government at Centre, only 2,197 militancy-related incidents took place in J&K compared to 40,164 cases between 1994 and 2004, and 7,217 from 2004 to 2014.
According to J&K Police data, militancy cases have seen a decline of 80% in 2023 compared to previous years.
Status of AFSPA in northeast
AFSPA is currently enforced in 31 districts and partially in 12 districts of four states in the Northeast Assam, Nagaland, Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh.
The Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958, was completely withdrawn in Meghalaya in 2018, Tripura in 2015 and Mizoram in the 1980s.
The Centre’s announcement of reducing the “disturbed area” under AFSPA in the Northeast was made by Amit Shah based on the recommendations of a high-level committee set up to examine the possibility of lifting the law after the killing of 14 civilians by the Army in Nagaland’s Mon district in December 2021.
All 15 districts of Nagaland have been declared “disturbed area” since 1995.
In Arunachal Pradesh, Tirap, Changlang and Longing districts, and the areas falling within the jurisdiction of Namsai and Mahadevour police stations in Namsai district bordering Assam were declared “disturbed areas” under AFSPA.
In for Assam, a notification was issued by the state government, which said “disturbed area” under the AFSPA has been withdrawn completely from 23 districts and one sub-division of the state’s 33 districts.
J&K political parties welcomes the move
The two former chief ministers Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti welcomed the proposed revocation of Armed Forces Special Powers Act from Jammu and Kashmir, but simultaneously expressed fears that it might be just a poll promise of Union Home Minister Amit Shah.
NC Vice-President and former CM J&K Omar Abdullah said the promise of revoking the AFSPA has been made in view of the upcoming Lok Sabha polls as he feared that the people here would be cheated just like those in Ladakh were on the promise of the Sixth Schedule.
Another former chief minister and PDP president Mehbooba Mufti welcomed the Shah’s statement but hoped it would not be a “Jumelbaazi” like the BJP promise of providing two crore jobs in the country every year.
Both the leaders were reacting to local media reports that quoted Shah as saying that the BJP-led Centre will surely consider revoking the AFSPA from Jammu and Kashmir in the future.
“I am waiting for this day since 2011. We made a lot of efforts to remove the AFSPA (when he was the chief minister) as well, but I fear that the people of Jammu and Kashmir will be misled and cheated like the people of Ladakh were misled and cheated on the promise of the Sixth Schedule as elections are here,” Omar Abdullah told reporters in Budgam district.
The NC leader said the law, which gives widespread powers and immunity against prosecution to security forces in disturbed areas, should be revoked right away in view of the statements made by central leaders about restoration of normalcy in Jammu and Kashmir.
“As far as revoking the AFSPA is concerned, start from today. When they say the situation is normal and militancy has ended and there is no separatist thought left, then what are they waiting for?” he asked.
Private television news channel quoted Shah as saying that “the situation is getting normal and we are speedily considering revoking the AFSPA from Jammu and Kashmir and a state of change is being considered”.
The Lok Sabha polls are scheduled to be held in seven phases starting April 19.
Meanwhile, in a post on X, PDP chief Mufti said, “As a first step, the Central government can release journalists and Kashmiris languishing in jail ‘without any charges.” “PDP has consistently demanded the revocation of draconian AFSPA along with a gradual removal of troops. It also formulated an important part of our Agenda of Alliance wholeheartedly agreed upon by BJP. Der aaye durust aaye”.
“Better late than never but only if it isn’t jumlebaazi like generating two crore jobs every year or empty promises of depositing 15 lacs into bank accounts,” Mufti said.
The former J&K chief minister hoped that the government would fulfill its commitment in case of AFSPA revocation as it would bring relief to the people of the Union territory.
“One can only hope that they fulfill their commitment at least in this case since it would bring a huge relief to the people of J&K. To walk the talk perhaps MHA can start by releasing journalists & thousands of young Kashmiri boys currently languishing in jails without any charges or prosecution,” she added.
Mufti’s daughter, Iltija Mufti, who is her media advisor, said the party welcomes the announcement and it is a good start.
“We welcome it because the PDP’s approach and its manifesto has always stood for the revocation of AFSPA which is a draconian law. The PDP also stands for withdrawal of armed forces from civilian areas,” Iltija Mufti told reporters here.
Terming the announcement as a good start, she, however, said whenever the PDP president states the same thing, “she is dubbed as anti-national”.
“If the Home Minister really wants to do it, then as a goodwill gesture before the Eid, hundreds of young Kashmiris and journalists who are in jails under UAPA and PSA should be released,” she added.
Iltija Mufti said the party, however, has an apprehension that this should not be a “Jumelbaazi” because the BJP knows that their position in J-K and Ladakh is not good and it does not look like they will perform well electorally.
Asked about the Shah’s other statement that the government has plans to pull back troops in the UT and leave law and order to the Jammu and Kashmir Police alone, the media advisor to the former CM said the BJP does not do what they say.
“First, they should revoke the AFSPA and withdraw the Army, then we will see who they empower. There is a slip between the cup and the lip. As far as the BJP is concerned, the distance between the cup and the lip is huge, they do not do what they say,” she said.
Jammu and Kashmir unit of BJP said the UT has witnessed a transformation after August 2019, when the Centre abrogated Article 370.
“NC is the party which implemented laws like AFSPA, but the BJP is a party which is in the process of revoking it as the situation has improved in J-K,” BJP’s J-K spokesperson Altaf Thakur said.
He said J-K is moving towards peace and prosperity and the time has come to revoke AFSPA.
Peoples Conference chief Sajad Lone said the proposed removal of AFSPA was an excellent step. “Removal of AFSPA will be an excellent step. People of Kashmir will welcome it. Let us take the HM for his word and let us hope he honours his word,” Lone said in a post on X.
In an apparent jibe at the NC and the Congress, Lone said to those Kashmiri leaders who ruled Jammu and Kashmir and their national partners who brought in AFSPA and never took it back “can u please have the decency of shutting up”.
J&K Apni Party President Altaf Bukhari also welcomed the statement of Union Home Minister Amit Shah regarding the revocation of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act from Jammu and Kashmir.
Bukhari said that the statement was the dividend for peace maintained by the people of Jammu and Kashmir.
Earlier, the Home Minister hinted that the revocation of AFSPA would be considered with the improvement in the situation here in J&K.
He said that J&K Police was being strengthened and soon it would be able to handle the law and order situation alone, enabling the gradual withdrawal of other troops.
“We hope that the statement of the Union Home Minister on AFSPA revocation and withdrawal of troops will be implemented. We appreciate the step,” Bukhari said.
Former Deputy Chief Minister Muzaffar Hussain Baig said that Home Minister Amit Shah’s remarks over AFSPA revocation has inculcated hope for peaceful and joyous era in Jammu and Kashmir.
Baig said “that momentous changes have taken place in the Union and State relationship. We have had a comfortable relationship with the Union of India for a respectful span of time. There were occasional hiccups but the spirit of good-will endured”.
He said, “We had a long historical back age from the militancy era that inevitably resulted in resort to AFSPA. Hon’ble Home Minister has had graciously announces that such a law would not be required in due course. That will be the occasion of our mutual rejoices. The hitherto psychological wall will become a stepping stone of mutual trust and abiding bond. I hope all responsible political parties will think it fit to endorse this humble call.”.
Baig added that the people of Jammu and Kashmir are eagerly and genuinely hoping that a joyous and peaceful era is going to be heralded with deliberate speed. “Further confidence building measures, like restoration of statehood for Jammu and Kashmir and release of prisoners, especially women and youth will be taken as early as feasible”, he added.