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Withdrawing AFSP Act will hit fight against terrorists

Withdrawing AFSP Act will hit fight against terrorists

Author: Rahul Datta
Publication: The Pioneer
Date: July 4, 2009

Amid reports that the Central Government is likely to withdraw the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) from Jammu and Kashmir, security forces have expressed concern saying it will seriously hamper the fight against terrorism and insurgency in the State.

Maintaining that the overall situation was not yet conducive for taking such a major decision, operational commanders said here on Friday that things could slide back to the early 1990s when militants virtually called the shots in Kashmir.

Having gained the upper hand against Pakistan-sponsored militancy in the State after a sustained campaign over a span of 10 years, they said withdrawal of the AFSP Act will negate the gains. The AFSP Act was promulgated in Jammu and Kashmir in 1990.

Cautioning the decision makers to study all aspects and ramifications before arriving at a decision, they said the security forces had now managed to reduce the area of influence of the militants. They were now finding it difficult to find sympathisers and safe houses to escape the dragnet of the security forces; thereby seriously hampering their capability to carry out terror strikes.

The security situation was improving gradually and the peaceful conduct of the Assembly and Lok Sabha polls earlier this year was an indicator of this, they added. However, the security forces could not lower their guard and the momentum of anti-terrorist operations had to be maintained, they said. The AFSP Act had proved to be a major deterrent for the militants and any move to withdraw it at the present juncture could prove to be counter-productive, they said.

As regards the necessity for the AFSP Act, they said it gave the Army judicial powers to question any suspect and use force, if necessary, in an operation. They said terrorists still enjoyed local support and the security forces, not familiar with the terrain, found it difficult to operate in populated areas.

The AFSP Act gives them the operational freedom and a certain amount of immunity to isolate the terrorists from the local populace. The Act allows the Army to enter any premises and conduct cordon and search, use a firearm and check the antecedents of a suspect.

In normal times, the State police can only use judicial powers and any other institution or person trying to assume these powers is liable to be prosecuted. Giving specific instances, sources said the terrorists in Kashmir try to exploit women and children by using them as shields. The AFSP Act gives the security forces the freedom to take action against such tactics used by militants.

Giving another example, they said that while chasing a terrorist, the security forces cannot wait for an order from a judicial officer as he may be pre-occupied. Any delay at that critical moment, when speed and surprise is necessary, will allow the militant to escape and the AFSP Act allows the Army to conduct anti-militancy operations in a seamless fashion.

The Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act was passed on September 11, 1958, by Parliament. It was passed to enable certain special powers to be conferred upon the armed forces in disturbed areas.

According to the AFSP Act, in an area that is proclaimed as "disturbed", an officer of the armed forces has powers to fire upon or use other kinds of force even if it causes death, to arrest without a warrant and with the use of "necessary" force anyone who has committed certain offences or is suspected of having done so. The Act also allows the security forces to enter and search any premises in order to make such arrests. Army officers have legal immunity for their actions.

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