- Manipur, an important border state with Myanmar, heads towards state assembly elections in February 2017.
- If the economic and infrastructure development that the policy calls for is to take place, one of the most vexatious issues concerning both the state as well as the Central governments must first be addressed—the continuation of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (Afspa) in Manipur.
- Afspa was imposed in Manipur in 1980 as it had been declared a “disturbed area”.
- In a landmark judgement in July 2016, the Supreme Court severely criticized Afspa as “symbolizing a failure of the civil administration and the armed forces”.
- The court was hearing a petition filed by hundreds of families against alleged fake encounters by the army and police forces over the last 20 years.
- The plea called for a probe by a Special Investigation Team (SIT) into the encounters.
- Manipur has been beset by insurgency ever since it was formed in 1949.
- The fault lines that existed during colonial administration by the British got accentuated post-independence.
- At one time, there were more than 30 rebel groups, chief among them being the Nagas.
- It is a well-known fact that several rebel groups have their bases in neighbouring Myanmar.
- Manipur was engulfed in an orgy of violence in the 1990s because of the ethnic militias and severe infighting between Naga groups.
- The main source of funds for rebels is extortion and the illegal taxes they collect from national highways 39 and 53.
- The rebel groups have also been actively involved in drug trafficking, which fuels their insurgency. Before arguing for the withdrawal of Afspa, it is pertinent to know how insurgency was controlled in Tripura, which repealed Afspa in 2015.
The most important question that the policymaker should ask is—what do the people want? Aren’t they sick and tired of the Afspa and the endless cycle of violence that has taken charge of their lives? In all probability, the answer would be a resounding yes.
- A political solution is the only way out of the present quagmire.
- According to a retired senior police officer involved in the thick of counter-insurgency operations, “Afspa is like having a shield for security apparatus when it is no longer required.”
- After a certain amount of time, there is no correlation to controlling violence with Afspa.
Any policy decision needs to have an incentive structure for the political class.
What could be the incentive to have a road map to repeal Afspa?
- None whatsoever, as far as the reading of the current situation is concerned.
- Moreover, the understanding between Nagas and the Central government as per the August 2015 accord would make a Meitei politician wary of supporting a repeal of Afspa.
- Considering all the above factors, one thing is certain—India’s Act East policy will gain traction only if there is a committed road map for withdrawing Afspa.
- The task of the army is to combat external aggression, not policing and internal security within the country.
- It is high time that both the Centre and state governments actively worked towards the withdrawal of Afspa without narrow political gains in mind.