By MUKHTAR AHMAD

SRINAGAR: Indian authorities plan to partially revoke a controversial law that shields government forces from prosecution in its portion of Kashmir. The controversial Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) and the Disturbed Areas Act (DAA) that give sweeping powers and immunity to Indian army, paramilitary forces and police in combating militancy in Jammu and Kashmir are being withdrawn from certain areas in next few days.

The chief minister, Omar Abdullah while making the announcement, however, did not identify the areas to be benefited.

“With the gradual improvement in the security situation and return of peace, AFSPA and DAA are being removed from some areas within next a few days”, he said adding that “return of peaceful situation has paved the way in this direction and these laws would be revoked from all parts of the state with the restoration of peace and tranquility.”

The chief minister’s announcement comes days after the three central interlocutors submitted their report to the federal home minister which is reported to have recommended revocation of the two laws imposed in the state in the wake militancy in the state.

AFSPA was introduced in 1990 to give the army and paramilitary forces — who number half a million today — sweeping powers to detain people, use deadly force and destroy property.

Violence is at its lowest since the start of the insurgency in 1989 and life is slowly returning to normal in a region where the streets used to be deserted after 5:00 p.m. because of strict curfews imposed by security forces.

Tourism has also come back into life, with visitor numbers at a two-decade high as Indians return to the steep valleys, lakes and mountain views of the “Switzerland of the East.”

Abdullah said that peaceful conditions had paved the way for partial withdrawal of the much-hated law.

“These laws would be revoked from all parts of the state with the restoration of peace and tranquility,” he said.

AFSPA has long been the target of human rights groups, which accuse the army of abusing the powers given to it under the act.

Under AFSPA, soldiers are given sweeping powers of detention, are able to shoot alleged militants and destroy any property suspected of being used as a militant hideout.

They cannot be prosecuted unless the Indian government gives prior sanction.

India’s home ministry has pushed for revocation of the act in Kashmir, but senior army figures have resisted any change, saying it could hamper their ability to combat militants, who still launch occasional attacks.

UN special rapporteur Margaret Sekaggya called on the Indian government to repeal AFSPA in January after a tour of Kashmir during which she heard “numerous testimonies” of torture, ill-treatment and arbitrary detentions.

Shopkeeper Mohammed Yusuf, 68, welcomed Friday’s announcement.

“It will mean a lot to us. At least security forces will be held accountable for their actions. If peace prevails, I am hopeful these laws will be lifted from the entire state,” he said.

Human Rights Watch, the New York-based lobby group, also applauded the step, but Khurram Pervez, the region’s leading human rights activist, said the partial withdrawal was not enough.

“There is broad recognition in India that the Armed Forces Special Powers Act should be repealed because it has led to so many abuses,” said Brad Adams, Human Rights Watch Asia director, in a statement earlier this week.

Pervez said the partial removal “will leave a lot of space for perpetuators” because someone could be arrested in a place where AFSPA was not in force and then taken to an area under the act.

“These laws should go from the entire state and not in patches,” he said.

Pervez’s group, Coalition of Civil Society, says 8,000 people have disappeared in the region, most of them after being arrested by government forces. Officials put the number of missing at 1,000-3,000.

Separatist politicians opposed to Indian rule demanded further steps.

“Even though we welcome this approach, this is not an issue of a district or a region. If you really want change in the situation, you should begin military withdrawal from the entire state,” said Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, the region’s top Islamic cleric and leading separatist.

He said demilitarization will pave the way for a situation where a solution can be sought through dialogue.

Source: Arab News – 21/10/2011