The deepening controversy and the row over the removal the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) in some areas of Kashmir has now become a metaphor for the Kashmiri condition: continued resistance by the powers that be in the power structure of India to sane and sober proposals. The nature of these proposals, especially the removal of the AFSPA can, in the final analysis not only lead to the legitimization of the Indian state in the eyes of the denizens of Kashmir but also crystallize and consolidate the general peace in Kashmir. The levels of violence in Kashmir have over the years ebbed on account of either the forces of attrition or the ebbing of the forces that provided the context and conditions for insurgency-external and internal. It, therefore, stretches credulity to believe that a law as draconian as the AFSPA needs to be the policy premise that undergirds security in Kashmir and that its continuation be deemed as a national security prerogative.
Instead of the ostensible reasons trotted out by ‘experts’ in the Indian national security establishment, the real reasons for the continuation of the Act, it would appear, are a set of intertwined reasons - a degree of squeamishness, jitteriness, lack of confidence and vested interest that has over the years become institutionalized. The low levels of violence - an odd grenade attack here and there or the killing of an informant or very rare attacks on security forces by remnants of or rumps of militants - can be countenanced by the state without the Act in place. And if last year’s general violence is taken as a yardstick for either the revocation or continuation of the Act, then the defense of the continuation of the Act becomes infantile and puerile. The nature of that violence does not, if one may take recourse to terms employed in standard containment theory and twist them, require a massive response by the state but a flexible one. That is, policy premise wherein a host of interconnected measures by the state are undertaken to both ameliorate and address the roots and causes of the rage that moved and made Kashmiri’s take to the streets.
The causes of that rage and anger are manifold. The primary one however is the obduracy and the obstructionism of the Indian state towards the legitimate aspirations of an expansive life, vigorous and expansive nationalism that is not at odds with the broader nationalism and the desire for a good life for the citizens of Kashmir. Add to this the ‘hard glove’ worn by the Indian state to squelch insurgency in Kashmir over the past couple of decades or more, the psychic condition of the ‘average’ Kashmiri does not really make the Indian state endearing to him or her. Helplessness and denial (real or perceived) of rights-economic, social and cultural - accruing from the obstructionism of the Indian state is a potent brew that makes the mind of the Kashmiri susceptible to take to the street and take recourse to violence as a means of protest. Ameliorating this condition, even from a lay perspective, does not need the ‘hard glove’ of the state and draconian acts like the AFSPA but, to repeat, a salubrious and salutary policy mix that addresses the real concerns and aspirations of the common Kashmiri. The continuation of the AFSPA validates to the common Kashmiri the ‘perfidiousness’ of the Indian state and the corollary accruing from this that the Indian state still treats Kashmiri’s with suspicion and that it (the Indian state) is Janus faced and hypocritical - certainly not a recipe for winning the hearts and minds of Kashmiris. Revocation of the AFSPA, at least in the areas designated by the young chief minister, Omar Abdullah, could be the first tentative step to build confidence between the Indian state and Kashmiris. It, along with other non-coercive measures, could possibly remove the structural problem that bedevils relations between the Indian state and Kashmiris: the trust deficit. Once this deficit is bridged and resolved, other steps could follow and peace be consolidated and crystallized in Kashmir. This could be done by changing the discourse on Kashmir from a focus on national to one on human security.
This would entail a comprehensive policy revamp from a narrow definition of security to a more expansive one placing the individual Kashmiri – his/her comprehensive welfare - at the heart of the new policy framework. This policy framework may also empower the common Kashmiri and enable him/her to lead an expansive life in accord with the premise of the ‘good life’. Latching onto the hackneyed and more or less rhetorical commitment to ‘national security’, and then letting the AFSPA continue in the form and shape as it is now would, on the contrary, be counterproductive. It is about time that saner heads in the Indian national security establishment mull over the implications of the continuation of the act and the prescriptions of this article and listen to Omar Abdullah.