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The AFSPA conundrum

Army Chief General M.M. Naravane’s announcement that the Court of Inquiry into the incident of killing of civilians in firing by Army’s para commandos in Mon district of Nagaland is expected to submit its findings in a day or two has raised hopes for justice to the families of the victims.

AFSPA

Sentinel Digital DeskBy : Sentinel Digital Desk

  |  13 Jan 2022 3:03 AM GMT

Army Chief General M.M. Naravane's announcement that the Court of Inquiry into the incident of killing of civilians in firing by Army's para commandos in Mon district of Nagaland is expected to submit its findings in a day or two has raised hopes for justice to the families of the victims. With the movement against the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1968 growing in Nagaland, the findings of the Army's Court of Inquiry are eagerly awaited in the state. The Army Chief on Wednesday said that the incident "is regrettable" and assured take "appropriate action." As indicated by the country's senior-most military officer, the findings of the inquiry will be critical for the Army to take corrective measures and refine their Standard Operating Procedure for counter-insurgency operations. The developments in Nagaland following the incident indicate that the demand for repeal of the AFSPA is not likely to die down immediately. The two-day-long march by anti-AFSPA protestors from Dimapur to state capital Kohima which concluded on Tuesday drawing a large number of protestors shows that the state is poised to witness persistent movement against the central Act. Earlier, the Nagaland State Assembly unanimously passed a resolution demanding the Central Government to withdraw the AFPSA from the Northeast, specifically from Nagaland, to strengthen efforts to find a peaceful solution to the Naga political problem. The Central Government on December 30, however, extended the 'Disturbed Area' tag for Nagaland by another six months to facilitate the extension of AFPSA in the state that served as a trigger to the intensification of the anti-AFSPA movement in the state. Pressure is also mounting on the Nagaland Government to make public the findings of the Special Investigation Team (SIT) constituted by the State Government to probe the killing of civilians by the Army's elite commando in a botched counter-insurgency operation. The SIT is learnt to have submitted its preliminary report and has sought more time to complete the investigation. With AFPSA in force, the legal question of whether the Nagaland Government will be able to initiate any action against the erring Army personnel based on its SIT findings will come to the fore. It is in this context, the action based on findings of the Army Court of Inquiry will be keenly watched in Nagaland and other states in the Northeast. With assembly elections in Manipur scheduled on February 27 and March 3, the development in Nagaland will also leave the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) worried. The intensified movement against the AFSPA in Nagaland having a spillover effect in Naga-inhabited areas in Manipur is a possibility even though the anti-AFPSA movement in the state has weakened. With reports of insurgent groups of the region trying to regroup and consolidate the Central government, as well as the state governments in the region, must deploy the Armed forces to foil any subversive activities by rebel groups. The Central and the State governments are bound by constitutional duties to protect the lives and properties of ordinary citizens and deployment of Armed forces become necessary as the state police forces are not capable of dealing with the situation on their own. Support of the people for such counter-insurgency operations is crucial for vital intelligence gathering. Erosion of support of civilians for operations carried out by the armed forces to prevent violent activities brings the risk of jeopardising counter-insurgency operations and allowing the space to the rebel groups to consolidate which is unwarranted. The Central Government, as well as the Security Forces, need to rethink if insisting on AFSPA is going to help achieve the desired objective when armed forces deployed for counter-insurgency operation can also get legal protection under the Unlawful (Activities) Prevention Act, 1967. The Government and the National Socialist Council of Nagalim (Isak-Muivah) and other factions resuming peace negotiation have become critical to sustaining hard-earned fragile peace in Nagaland and the rest of the region. While the solution is still elusive even after over three decades of signing the ceasefire and holding over 80 rounds of peace talks, there was consensus that the protracted Naga political problem needs to be resolved at the earliest so that the entire region can make faster progress and unlock its growth potential in an atmosphere of peace. The Naga peace talks must not be derailed and if the anti-AFSPA movement grows then breaking the ice over stalled peace talks may be difficult as the NSCN(IM) has insisted that no talks will be meaningful under the shadow of the AFSPA. Both sides need to acknowledge the fact that Naga people are yearning for permanent peace through the early settlement of the Naga political issue and end to armed conflict as civilians remain trapped and suffer collateral damage when conflict continues for a prolonged period. The Central government will have to weigh all probabilities. All eyes will now be on the Army on actions it takes on inquiry findings.

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