Why PDP-BJP spat over FIR against army is nothing but political posturing
A familiar political spectacle is at play in Kashmir and one could appreciate it as a deft posturing by the politicians if its origins were not so tragic.
On Saturday, Army killed two youth at Ganowpora in Shopian after a crowd pelted stones on its personnel for trying to remove the banners displaying pictures of the two militants killed two days back in the same village. The killings generated anger across the Valley. Hurriyat promptly issued a call for hartal for the following day. The state government ordered a magisterial enquiry. Police filed an FIR and named in it the Army officer Major Aditya of 10 Garhwal Regiment and his unit for being responsible for the killings.
This set the stage for an engaging political performance in the state by the coalition partners PDP and BJP, with the opposition playing along. The parties split on the issue of the FIR against Army. Speaking at an Army function, BJP legislator Ravinder Raina vigorously defended the Army’s action at Shopian, saying the protesters were backed by Pakistan.
“What the Army did was an act of self-defence for the security of the nation and as per law. It was extremely important and much needed. Army did the right thing,” Raina said.
Similarly, the Union minister of state Dr Jitendra Singh said that nothing should be said or done that would lower the morale of the Indian Army. “The nation is behind the army and we should not do anything that undermines the morale of our army,” Dr Singh said.
In the Assembly, the BJP also sought withdrawal of the FIR against Army.
But speaking in the House, Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti put her foot down, saying the FIR will be taken to its logical conclusion.
And when reported in the media, this created a public perception of a split down the middle. But in truth, it is anything but. Both parties are playing to their respective constituencies in Kashmir Valley and Jammu, knowing full well that the issue that has apparently divided them has no basis in reality.
Truth is that the FIR against the Army in Kashmir means nothing. There are hundreds of such FIRs pending against the Army over the past three decades and none of them has been acted upon. The reason for this is that the Army in Kashmir is protected by the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) and so any action against the Army personnel involved in alleged human rights violations has to be sanctioned by the defense ministry and which it has never done so far.
In fact, a Right to Information (RTI) query in 2012 found that the defense ministry would not trust J&K Police investigation into the human rights violations against army. In the 19 out of the 24 cases against army personnel sent by the J&K government for sanction for prosecution in the preceding five years, the ministry had found the police investigation shoddy enough to merit the sanction. What is more, in some cases, the ministry had even suspected foul play by the police. In the remaining five cases, the ministry had said it was still mulling the evidence gathered by the police. The cases involved rape, death in custody and fake encounters against the army personnel.
In one case of death in custody against one Major GK Batila, the ministry termed the allegation of police baseless and “framed with malafide intention to tarnish the image of army”.
In the past, the ministry has even denied sanction in as heinous a case of human rights violation as the fake encounter at Pathribal in 2000 in which five civilians were killed by the army and passed off as the terrorists responsible for the killing of 36 Sikhs at Chittisinghpora. CBI which later investigated the case concluded that the encounter was fake and persons killed were innocent civilians.
The AFSPA was imposed in the Kashmir Valley in 1990, a year after the outbreak of militancy. The Act gives the armed forces immunity from prosecution while operating in the internal conflict zones. But after the drastic drop in the militancy during the first half of this decade, the politicians in Valley started calling for the revocation of the law. Omar Abdullah, when he was the Chief Minister from 2009 to 2014 made the loudest pitch for the law’s repeal. So did the PDP during its negotiations for partnership with the BJP in the government. In fact, in its agenda of alliance, the BJP agreed to de-notify the disturbed areas “enabling Union government to take a final view on the continuation of AFSPA”. But once in power, the saffron party reneged on the commitment. The PDP also didn’t protest - its position on the issue was moderated by the disproportionate rise in the militancy related violence over the past two years.
Therefore AFSPA continues making it impossible for the state government to act against Army in case of human rights violations.
Where does this leave the BJP’s outrage over the FIR against Major Aditya of 10 Garhwal Regiment and Mehbooba’s resolve “to take it to its logical conclusion”? Both are playing to the gallery. As for any action against the personnel involved in the killings, just recall the outcome of the numerous cases of human rights excesses against the army over the past thirty years, some of them of much more heinous nature.