Friday, November 11, 2011

Kashmir - Armed forces with unlimited powers are answerable to no one

A MAIN focus of anger for the people of Kashmir is the reviled Armed Forces Special Powers Act, in effect in the province since 1990.

The act, known by its clumsy acronym AFSPA, gives police and soldiers in the valley almost unlimited powers to maintain order, including the right to shoot to kill, to detain indefinitely without charge and to enter and search any building.

Above all, it gives police officers and soldiers immunity from prosecution.

Regardless of their actions, they cannot be brought before a court.

This week, the Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir, Omar Abdullah, demanded the army rescind the law in peaceful areas, saying, "If we wait for the last gun to fall silent, then the time will never come to remove this (AFSPA).''

But the military simply refused, telling the government: "There cannot be islands of peace" in the province.

After almost 10 years, Bilkees Manzoor still seeks justice and hopes her father will come home.

Manzoor Ahmad Dar, a chemist, was dragged from his Srinagar home just after midnight on January 17, 2002.

''There was a knock on the door, that horrible knock. My father opened the door, and they took him away.''
Mr Dar's family have not heard from him since. Others who were taken that night and subsequently freed, have reported sharing a cell with him, but that was in the days following his arrest, and nothing has been heard in the long years since.

Ms Manzoor is still seeking answers. She is one of the few in Kashmir who have tried to fight her case through India's notoriously slow, famously venal, justice system.
In 10 years, she has won court rulings, but the case grinds on, hamstrung by the military's refusal to co-operate, even after rulings from the High Court that it must produce for questioning the army major who took Mr Dar away.

Fearless, it seems, of a contempt proceeding, the army has not even acknowledged the court's order.

Ms Manzoor says Kashmir can never be at peace while the Armed Forces Special Powers Act remains in force.

Her mother speaks little. She is one of Kashmir's half-widows, the name for women whose husbands are neither dead nor alive but simply have disappeared.

The women live in a state of perpetual limbo, unable to properly carry on their lives, to remarry, to work or to move.

They live in resignation that the answer may never come, rather than hope for the future.

Ms Manzoor speaks for her mother. She says the family believes - no, she corrects herself - hopes their father and husband is alive still.

''We have never seen a dead body, so we feel he might still be alive. We miss him every moment, and we still wait for him will come back to us.''

Khurram Parvez, from the Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society, says the Armed Forces Special Powers Act is a major antagonist for the Kashmiri people.

''People have felt choked, people have felt frustrated because of the denial of democratic rights,'' Mr Parvez said.

''[They] perceive the Indian army as an occupying force. There is complete hostility towards it. We may not be able to harm them, but we will not even look into their eyes.''

But Mr Parvez sees hope for Kashmir, even in the little things, even in the nomenclature.

In Northern Ireland, it was ''The Troubles'', Latin America had its ''Dirty Wars'', ''but in Kashmir, this last 22 years period has been called Tehrik, which means movement. People understand that there will be consequences but that it is movement towards a goal.''

By Ben Doherty Sydney Morning Herald

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