Lifeline for forces' act

New Delhi, Feb. 9: The Centre has all but resolved to tow the army's line and junk the demand for the repeal of the Armed Forces' Special Powers Act (AFSPA) in the wake of Afzal Guru's execution.

Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Omar Abdullah has been promising that he was persuading the defence ministry to repeal the AFSPA from parts of the state that have seen a decline in insurgent violence over the past three years.

Last month, the Justice J.S. Verma committee report on gender violence had also recommended a dilution of the AFSPA because women's groups had said personnel of security forces seek refuge in the extraordinary powers under the law after being charged of sexual harassment.

But with Kashmir now on a powder keg ' almost the entire Valley was curfew-bound today after the hanging ' sources in army headquarters said the forces were on high alert. They said the army was not yet patrolling the streets but was at the ready.

In January, the killing of two Indian soldiers ' including the beheading of one ' on the Line of Control had so angered the army that its chief, General Bikram Singh, said it reserved the right to retaliate against Pakistan.

Earlier this week in Bangalore, defence minister A.K. Antony said the geopolitical situation arising from conditions in Afghanistan was grave enough to prepare security forces for a backlash at the time of the withdrawal of US-led forces from that country. In such circumstances, "we have to weigh things a lot and not act in a hurry", he said.

In some ways, this reflects fears of a downward spiral akin to the 1980s. Violence in the Valley was stoked by the "blowback" from the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan, the hanging of Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front founder Maqbool Bhat (1984), the kidnapping of Rubaiya Sayeed and the allegations that the 1989 state elections were rigged.

But security agencies assess that in the past five years, violence had come down because the anti-infiltration grid was strengthened, the ceasefire on the LoC and also because the people in the Valley were tasting the fruits of peace through increased tourism and other businesses.

How far the hanging of Afzal will impact on the fragile nature of the peace is yet to be measured. So far, the curfew and a clampdown on electronic communication modes have by and large stymied visible public emotion.

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