The justification to extend AFSPA in Nagaland is ridiculous. There has been no incident of violence involving any militant outfits in the recent past.
The Centre’s decision to withdraw the controversial Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958, from Meghalaya and parts of Arunachal Pradesh is a much-delayed response to a region which has been demanding its repeal for almost two decades.
The latest announcement is a step in the right direction, since Meghalaya and most parts of Arunachal (barring Changlang, Longding and Tirap districts bordering a rebel-infested region of Myanmar) have been largely peaceful in the past several years.
The AFSPA initially was applicable only to the Naga Hills, then a part of Assam, and was later extended to the rest of the northeast to curb armed insurgent movements. For the uninitiated, there are three versions of the same law – AFSPA (Assam and Manipur), 1958; AFSPA (Punjab and Chandigarh), 1983; and AFSPA (Jammu and Kashmir), 1990. With security forces enjoying maximum impunity guaranteed under AFSPA, it has been called the most draconian law in post-independence India.
The case of Nagaland
The move comes after the Narendra Modi government in January this year extended the law to the entire state of Nagaland for another six months. However, one is left wondering about the government’s motive vis-a-vis Nagaland, which is eagerly awaiting an early solution to the vexed Naga issue.
The home ministry had justified the move to extend AFPSA by saying the entire state of Nagaland was in such a “disturbed and dangerous condition that the use of armed forces in aid of the civil power is necessary”. The statement exposes the government’s double standards — on one hand, the Modi government claims to be making efforts to bring an end to India’s oldest separatist movement, and on the other, it hesitates to withdraw armed forces from the state to facilitate the peace process.
Recently, union minister of state for home affairs, Kiren Rijiju, stoked a controversy by stating that the issue of sovereignty was dropped from the 2015 ‘framework agreement’ for the proposed Naga Accord. The National Socialist Council of Nagalim (Isak-Muivah), which is negotiating for a peaceful settlement of the Naga issue with the central government, had hit back, calling Rijiju’s remark a “figment of his own imagination”.
The BJP-led Centre seems to have missed a vital fact that it took more than 80 rounds of negotiations spanning 18 years to reach the stage where the government of India and Naga rebels finally signed the framework agreement. Prior to this, a ceasefire agreement was sealed in 1997, after decades of insurgency in Nagaland — a major factor behind the government insisting on enforcement of AFSPA in the state.
The government’s justification to extend the AFSPA in Nagaland is ridiculous is to say the least. There has been no incident of violence involving any militant outfits in the state in the recent past. A former central government official, while saying that this decision was based on “perception without foresight”, quoted a former home secretary who, while appraising the need for continuance of the AFSPA, “had opined that law and order-related casualties are perceptibly on the decline and are also lesser in Nagaland than in a place like Delhi”.
He also argues such laws have not been enforced in Maoist-hit states such Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand, which continue to witness a cycle of violence, resulting in the deaths of both rebels and security forces personnel at regular intervals.
The case of Manipur
In Manipur, the situation demands more serious thought. Here, the demand for a repeal of the ‘black law’ had transformed into a movement with ‘Iron Lady’ Irom Sharmila leading it with her hunger strike for more than 15 years before calling it off in August 2016.
A major argument offered by human rights organisations is that AFSPA gives the state police and security forces the ‘licence to kill’ — a direct reference to the hundreds of extrajudicial killings that Manipur has recorded in the past two decades.
In July 2016, the Supreme Court had come down heavily on the armed forces, seeking details of 1,528 cases of extrajudicial killings committed between May 1979 and May 2012. In its last hearing in February this year, the court even expressed displeasure over what is seen as shoddy probe by the CBI’s special investigation team into these cases.
It’s high time the government paid heed to the demands for withdrawal of the AFSPA from Nagaland and Manipur as well, which will pave the way for peace talks with other militant organisations in the region.