Not the right time to take away AFSPA: Army Chief
New Delhi, Mar 15: The time is “not right” for the removal of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) from Jammu and Kashmir, Army Chief General Bikram Singh said Friday. Speaking in the wake of the Srinagar attack in which 5 CRPF personnel were killed, he emphasized that any decision on this “should not be politicized” “We only make recommendations. If I was to be asked, I would say that the time is not right at the moment to tamper with this enabling act. We should not take away AFSPA at this juncture,” he said when asked to comment on the issue.
The Army Chief, who was speaking at a programme in the Capital, was asked to comment on Union Minister Farooq Abdullah's demand for repeal of the AFSPA (Armed Forces Special Powers Act) from the state. There have been similar demands voiced by his son and Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, other political leaders and separatists in the valley. “It is important to observe the situation and it is important to understand the security contours of the situation before we take a decision. The decision should be a pragmatic one, it should be in national interest and it should not be politicised,” he said.
Gen Singh said the Indian Army was working for strengthening the hands of the State Government and the day it feels it can handle the situation on its own, “then period. Go ahead.”
The Army Chief observed that the terror infrastructure across the Line of Control (LoC) was still intact. One of the militants killed in the Tuesday attack on CRPF personnel in Srinagar was of Pakistani origin and a number of external factors were “impinging” on the security environment in the State, he said. “This decision (on AFSPA) has to be taken in the backdrop of violence profile, in the backdrop of what can happen in future, in the backdrop of futuristic contours. We have to be very confident that it does not relapse. We shall not be left in a position of disadvantage,” Gen Singh said.
On suggestions that the Army was not listening to the government on the issue as Finance Minister had stated that the government wants the law to go but Army has objections on it, he said, “If a decision is taken by the government, we are ready to relocate. ” Replying to a query whether the Army did not want to move out of the counter-insurgency roles, Gen Singh said, “We are losing our officers and men day in and day out. We are not there for fun. We are there as the nation wants us to be there. We are not getting fun out of dying. We are there because we are mandated to do so.” He said it was seen that when the conditions are not good, “no one says anything but whenever things are improving in the counter-insurgency operations, you will find that there is anti-army rhetoric.”
The Army Chief said the force was not in the state for any “army centric” agenda and was performing its tasks in the national interest. The Army, he said, did not want to be involved in internal security operations for very long. In the recent past, political outfits in the state and its Chief Minister Omar Abdullah have been advocating the removal of the controversial act from some parts of the state but the Army has been in opposition to this demand.
Meanwhile, the Army made it clear to Pakistan that it cannot keep the tap of “exporting terrorism to India” open and hope for confidence-building measures (CBMs) with it. “They are bleeding us and you want us to shake hands with you at the military level. I think that is not done. We got to be fair and there has to be level-playing field,” Army Chief Gen Bikram Singh said and accused the neighbour of having “double standards” when it says that “terrorists were not under its control and conceals them as non-state actors.” “The term CBM has got to be preceded by addressing trust deficit. You cannot talk of these things for endless years the way the things are going on. You cannot afford to keep open this tap of exporting terrorism to India. You have to check that and only then we can move forward,” he said.
The Army Chief was answering queries at the India Today conclave about the Army being opposed to the CBMs between India and Pakistan.
Gen Singh said “things can improve” if Pakistan tells India that it can come and take stock of terror infrastructure there. “You cannot have double standards. You say they are not in our control but yet we have non-state actors. They are bleeding us and you want us to shake hands with you at the military level. I think that is not done. We got to be fair and there has to be level-playing field,” he said. The Army Chief said any decision on the CBMs has to be preceded by both the armies addressing trust deficit. “This is something we have to do because we cannot be talking of something else and doing something else,” he said. He cited the example of Pakistan Army's double speak during Kargil war where first it disowned its troops present in Indian territory only to later say that its officers had ventured into Indian territory during that time. “Let us be sensitive to each other's aspirations, let us go ahead with civility,” he said referring to the issue of beheading of an Indian soldier by Pakistani troops.
The Army Chief also made it clear that Indian troops had not crossed over to the Pakistan side of the LoC on January 6. “We have not crossed over anywhere as alleged by Pakistan Army on January 6 to carry out any operation across the LoC. And it (the allegation) was done to justify and legitimise what was done on 8th. The issue is that these can be handled at local level.... Beheading has to be condemned. That is not done,” he said. To a query that governments of India and Pakistan are close to agreement on Siachin but the Army was opposing it, he said, “Please understand it is our area and it is strategically important. Why are we talking about giving our own area to somebody. It defies logic.”
On giving more role to women in the Army, he said 200 more avenues have been opened in the force for them as per a study ordered by him. The Army Chief said the women were “strong and robust” and 200 new slots would be given to them. Gen Singh said in the last 65 years, the Army has lost 22,443 men and officers in different wars fought by the country and they have to be given their due by the nation. To queries on China, the Chief said the Army was prepared and “will not let any asymmetry” affect it.
He said the proposed Mountain Strike Corps was in final stages of being cleared by the government and it will be a capability which the force wants as part of its modernisation.(PTI)