It’s a sign of the improved atmosphere in parts of the Northeast that the Centre has withdrawn the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act from Meghalaya after 27 years and from eight police station areas in Arunachal Pradesh, where AFSPA was in force for at least a quarter century. The legacy problems of militancy and insurgency from the old Greater Assam seem to be dying, with insurgency incidents said to be falling by almost 80 per cent in some areas. The Army needed the special powers to tackle situations where not only peace but the very concept of national territorial integrity was threatened. To arm ordinary policemen with the power to deal with threats in the course of duty after clearing it with a magistrate makes them immune from criminal action, but an Army officer could technically be sent to the gallows for defending himself in a civilian area.
If liberals have their way, this draconian law which absolves Army personnel of charges involving collateral civilian damage in operations should be scrapped everywhere, including Jammu and Kashmir. What they don’t seem to factor in is that the Kashmir Valley is strategically significant and faces the threat of a foreign power aiding insurgency and exporting terror through trained disruptors. While it would be obviously desirable if the Army did not need special powers to tackle terrorism, it goes against the grain of logic, even in Nagaland, Assam and Manipur. Special provisions are needed to deal with “disturbed areas”. The Army would do well not to misuse its power to search, arrest or shoot. But as long as there is a major security threat to India, the Army should be armed with these special powers.