`Defence Ministry must respond positively to move to amend AFSPA`

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CHENNAI, April 14 (agencies: The Ministry of Defence needs to consider how to respond positively, “rather than negatively,” to proposals for repeal of and amendments to the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, the Group of Interlocutors on Jammu and Kashmir has said in their final report.

While stating that the group`s impression was that the AFSPA was more the symbol of a problem than its cause, the report went on to add: “But symbols are important for peace processes, and thus the Ministry of Defence needs to consider how to respond positively to this issue rather than negatively.”

The Prime Minister`s Working Group on Confidence-Building Measures had also recommended reviewing the Disturbed Areas Act and AFSPA, “and if possible lifting the former and revoking the latter.”

The Jeevan Reddy Commission had proposed the repeal of the AFSPA and the incorporation of some of its provisions into a new national law, to be called the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act. The Ministry of Home Affairs had also recommended several amendments to the AFSPA, which will bring it in line with the Criminal Procedure Code while allowing for the protections for the armed forces that exist in every democratic country. “These proposals should be reviewed by the Ministry of Defence, and a decision taken at the earliest.”

According to the group, the goal was to arrive at a situation in which troops will be deployed only at the borders. “A step-by-step process would begin with the Army remaining in barracks and transferring any civilian policing duties to the paramilitary, with their onward transfer to the Jammu and Kashmir police. This step has already been taken in most urban areas but could be consolidated in rural areas.”

The group noted that one problem that arose in 2010 was that the J&K police were not trained or equipped to handle the transfer of duties. “Current initiatives at retraining, especially in community policing, as well as the revised Operating Manual, should help bridge the gap, but police-community relations remain volatile, especially in the urban areas, and appear to depend on the individuals in charge of district police stations. In the rural areas, there is a problem of shortage of police but fresh recruitments should fill the gap. In this context, it should be noted that in the mountainous districts of Jammu, which border the LoC, the felt need was for the Village Defense Committees to be incorporated into the police, and to be made multi-ethnic.”

The next step, the report added, was to review military deployments to see whether security installations can be rationalised through reducing their spread to a few strategic locations and creating mobile units for rapid response. “The desire for redeployment of military and/or security forces and installations

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