Even as Chief Minister Omar Abdullah's proposal to roll back the Armed Forces Special Powers Act has sparked off a war of words within Jammu and Kashmir's ruling coalition, an investigation by The Hindu has thrown up new evidence that suggests the situation in the State no longer warrants large-scale troop commitments for counter-terrorism operations.
Figures published by the Union government on Thursday show that Jammu and Kashmir residents are significantly less likely to die in a violent crime than their counterparts in many other States — data which lends weight to an incremental movement towards reducing the Army's footprint.
In an interview published on Thursday, State Congress chief Saifuddin Soz lashed out at the Chief Minister, saying the Act would “end only when militancy ends.” Mr. Abdullah hit back, saying his proposals were discussed with Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram. “There have been discussions on this for months at the highest levels,” Mr. Abdullah told The Hindu .
Chief of the Army Staff General V.K. Singh has been resisting the State government's proposals for withdrawing the Act on a test basis from enclaves in Srinagar and Badgam — areas where the Army has not had an operational presence for years. Fearing the political consequences of overruling the military's assessment, New Delhi has gone slow on the idea despite Mr. Chidambaram's behind-the-scenes urging.
In its annual report for 2010-2011, the Home Ministry records that 69 police and military personnel, 47 civilians and 232 terrorists were killed in the State last year. The 2011 census survey estimates that the State is home to 1,25,48,926 people — which means that terrorism-related fatalities, including those of combatants, stand at 2.77 per 100,000 population.
Figures published in the National Crime Records Bureau annual report for 2010 show the State also had 101 murders not related to terrorism, which number pushes up its total rate to 3.5.
There is a long list of States where residents are considerably more likely to become victims of violent deaths: among them, Arunachal Pradesh, with 6.1; Jharkhand, with 5.5; Mizoram with 4.8; Chhattisgarh, with 4.3; Tripura, with 4.2 per 1,00,000.Jammu and Kashmir's murder rate is near-identical to Bihar's; not significantly higher than Delhi's 3.1 and markedly better than Haryana's 4.1.
India's murder rates, interestingly, are significantly lower than the United States. In 2009, the District of Columbia, which houses the capital, registered 18.84 firearms-related deaths per 100,000 population alone, followed by Louisiana with 12.2 and Alabama with 11.4.
“The Jammu and Kashmir police,” says S.M. Sahai, Inspector-General for the Kashmir zone, “is more than capable of dealing with the challenge of terrorism at its current levels.”
The levels of violence have seen a steady decline since 2001-2002, when India and Pakistan almost went to war in the wake of the attack on the Parliament House. In 2004, 707 civilians, 976 terrorists and 281 police and military personnel were killed. In 2009, the numbers plummeted to 64 security personnel, 78 civilians and 239 terrorists.
India does not make public its force-levels in Jammu and Kashmir. In 2007, though, the former Northern Army commander, Lieutenant-General H.S. Panag, said a total of 3,37,000 troops were present in the State and less than 30 per cent of these were committed to counter-terrorism duties.
The State government contends that the decline in violence, as well as enhancements in police strength, means a number of these troops could be withdrawn and, as they leave, the Act lifted.
The Army acknowledges the decline in violence, but argues that there is a continued threat from across the Line of Control, which necessitates the Act remaining in place.