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The Daily Fix: AFSPA withdrawal from Meghalaya and Arunachal is a hopeful sign for North East


Source: | Tuesday, April 24, 2018

The Big Story: Bad Act

The Centre on Monday decided to withdraw the Armed Forces Special Powers Act totally from Meghalaya and from eight out of 16 police stations in Arunachal Pradesh, more than a quarter century after it was first extended to those two states. The decision, meant to reflect the drop in levels of violence and presence of insurgency in the two states, is a welcome development. AFSPA, as the act is known, gives special powers and immunity to armed forces in areas that had been declared as “disturbed”. It remains in force in a number of states in the North East, as well as in Jammu and Kashmir and is frequently the target of ire from locals and human rights activists who point out that it enables abuses by those in the armed forces.

The decision in Meghalaya and Arunachal comes three years after Tripura also saw the act lifted from that state after 18 years. It remains in force in the entirety of Assam and Nagaland, most of Manipur, and in the remaining eight police stations of Arunachal Pradesh. But if the Tripura and Meghalaya examples are anything to go by, there should be hope that the act can eventually be withdrawn across even more of the region.

Insurgency in the North East in general has been dropping steadily from its peak around two decades ago. According to the Times of India, insurgency incidents dropped from 1963 in 2000 to 308 in 2017. The number of civilians killed also dropped from 907 in 2000 to 37 last year, with a commensurate drop in security forces casualties as well.

Assessments by the South Asia Terrorism Portal tend to reflect this, pointing to “relative peace” in Manipur, where 2017 saw the second-lowest fatalities of forces since 1992; a “remarkable consolidation of peace” in Assam where insurgency levels have fallen to their “lowest since the commencement of troubles in the region”, and indications that peace talks in Nagaland have progressed to the extent that a “lasting peace” is within sight.

The Tripura example is in some ways most instructive. That state chose to withdraw AFSPA by putting more weight behind a counter-insurgency led by the police. This has, in some places, led to abuses by the police on the lines of the criticism that had earlier been levelled at the armed forces, which is problematic. At the same time, police forces are usually drawn from locals and, moreover, are accountable to the civilian government of the state, a structure that is much more likely to act as a check on the excesses of the forces.

The withdrawal of AFSPA then, is a two-fold victory: From the security forces side it indicates that insurgency levels have indeed dropped tremendously. And from the view of the locals, it reflects the revocation of a law that has been called draconian. The Centre as well as other states in the region should make every effort to extend this approach to the rest of the region as well.

Source: www.scroll.in


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