Two Army divisions (about 30,000 troops) were withdrawn from Jammu and Kashmir since last year and there were plans to pull back more troops if the law and order situation in the State continued to improve, Defence Minister A.K. Antony said here on Friday. He, however, ruled out revocation of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) from areas where the armed forces were deployed for counterinsurgency operations.
“Already the Army, by its own initiative, has withdrawn two divisions from Jammu and Kashmir. Last year, it withdrew one division. This year also it withdrew another division. So whenever we feel the situation is improving, we are willing to further reduce the visibility and presence of the armed forces,” he said after delivering the keynote address at a seminar on internal security.
On the AFSPA, he reiterated the stand taken by the Army chiefs in the past that the armed forces needed special powers whenever they were deployed on counter-insurgency duties. But, he expressed the government’s willingness to discuss changes in these powers. “Without special powers, the Army cannot operate … But at the same time we can have a detailed discussion about making some modification here and there.”
Asked about Army Chief General Deepak Kapoor’s observations that the media highlighted human rights violations, the Minister made it clear that the government would not ignore even a single case of such violation. “We will take prompt action. We feel that in a democracy, Parliament, judiciary, human rights organisations and also media have a positive role to play to protect the rights of citizens.”
The Minister admitted that neither the government nor the Army was “happy” about counter-insurgency deployment. “This is the last resort. The Army is not at all interested, the government is not at all interested in large-scale, permanent stationing of the armed forces in Jammu and Kashmir,” he said.
Mr. Antony complimented the armed forces for their “dedicated hard work” in Jammu and Kashmir because of which “for the first time the law and order situation is improving, infiltration and the number of violent incidents are declining.”
Speaking at the seminar, Mr. Antony said the AFSPA allowed the armed forces to act in “difficult situations” in Jammu and Kashmir and the northeast but the onus was on them to stop “misuse” of these special provisions.
On human rights, he said the government would not hesitate to take stern action against the guilty in case of any misuse.
“We must adopt the policy of zero tolerance in letter and in spirit, towards any instance of human rights violation.”
“Our armed forces must consciously follow the twin ethics of minimum use of force and good faith during operations against an invisible and ruthless enemy,” he said.