The second four-yearly Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of the United Nations Human Rights Council was held in Geneva in the month of May. The Indian delegation was led by the Attorney General of India, Goolam E Vahanvati, who made a presentation on May, 25. Vahanvati dwelled on landmark legislations like the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, the Right to Education Act of 2009, the Right to Information Act, the National Food Security Bill etc, to showcase India’s commitment to human rights and development of its vast and diverse polity. He also stated that internal challenges posed by terrorism and insurgency are being met with resolve, coupled with compassion and people oriented development.
While replying to the concerns raised over Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act in Jammu and Kashmir and the Northeast, Vahanvati pointed out the threats that the country faces from terrorists and left-wing extremism. He emphasised the checks and balances and strict guidelines for the armed forces when dealing with terrorism and insurgency. Quite satisfied with the reply, the Council, in its final report expressed concern over the issue of protecting human rights while carrying out counter-terrorism procedures and called upon the Indian government to address allegations of extrajudicial killings and torture. This response fell wholly short of a demand for revocation, repeal or reappraisal of the legislations and policy decisions of the government of India on the issue.
The statement made by the attorney general clearly indicated that the government of India is alive to all aspects of human rights but, at the same time, it has in mind its constitutional responsibility to protect the people from onslaughts of inimical forces which have active support from foreign soil. The government is not willing to let slip the fragile peace that has been ushered in Jammu and Kashmir after years of relentless operations by security forces under protection of the AFSPA. It is well aware that the time is not right to change the security paradigm, since forces of disruption continue to retain the ability to stage a riposte at a massive scale. The United Nations is also aware of the constraints of the government, therefore, the body has thought it best not to press the issue despite pressure from various lobbies.
Sadly, the concerns of the central government do not seem to be shared by Omar Abdullah, the chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir. He has made “selective revocation of AFSPA” a personal issue. In fact, so immersed is he in this ego trip that all else has been sidelined for single minded pursuit of the agenda; he can hardly speak or tweet of anything else. He continues to press his unreasonable demands despite dignified attempts by central ministers and senior army officers to dissuade him from following an inherently flawed line of thought. Omar says that he has triggered a debate to “force a decision” in his favour. “One way is that you keep quiet and expect that something will happen or one way is to make a public discussion about it to force things in that direction. We decided for the second option ……”, says the chief minister. This implies that important government decisions are now to be taken in the public domain through the media, a dangerous policy which can have serious repercussions.
In yet another interview to a national daily, Omar Abdullah has stated that the army needs to stay on the borders to check infiltration while the hinterland should be covered by the CRPF. While suggesting a linear deployment of the army on the line of control, Omar has shown an embarrassing lack of knowledge of the terrain of his state and the basics of counter infiltration operations. Has any defence in a game of football been based on a strategy of placing all players on the centre line? A somewhat similar logic can be applied to the counter infiltration operations also. The terrain in Jammu and Kashmir is such that no amount of vigilance can stop a determined infiltrator from coming through; the inflow can be contained, as has been done, but it cannot be stopped altogether. Therefore, the army needs to be deployed in tiers to intercept the enemy if he succeeds in crosses over; it definitely cannot be placed along the border as suggested by our worthy chief minister. On the issue of the CRPF taking on all duties of the army, one can only hope that the chief minister has taken the views of the Director General CRPF, since there seem to be a number of acrimonious issues between the JK Police and the CRPF. In any case, most allegations of human rights violations in the last few years, since Omar has been chief minister, have been made against the CRPF and JK Police.
It is not being suggested that the AFSPA should remain in perpetuity; in fact, a democracy needs to be kept free from restrictive legislations. Unfortunately, the world today is not in a position to allow this luxury. Security of individuals from terrorism and other such forms of violence has made it necessary for governments across the world to resort to some restrictions and checks. The need is even more at pressure points like Jammu and Kashmir. As a ground rule, security decisions have to remain in the domain of those mandated to take them and the mandate is with the government not the media. These decisions cannot and should not be taken through the media. Public sentiment cannot guide security policies. It is best that such matters be discussed internally, resolved in suitable manner and then conveyed to the public through the media. Above all, security has to be seen from the prism of reality and not political compulsions or personal egos; one expects that the future of the country remains in the hands of mature, reasonable people.