Indian Decade

Healing Touch in Kashmir

The arrest of a BSF official suggests a new approach by India over the Kashmir issue.

It’s not very often that a senior paramilitary force official engaged in counter-insurgency operations is arrested on murder charges from a sensitive state like Jammu and Kashmir. So when a Border Security Force (BSF) commandant was arrested last month for the killing of a 16-year-old schoolboy in Srinagar, the first time such a thing has happened in the troubled state, it signified winds of change blowing through the central government’s approach.

The teenager was reportedly returning from a cricket match and was murdered in cold blood by the accused BSF officer. The incident generated a lot of heat and dust in the restive state and gave Pakistan a stick with which to beat India. The action against the BSF Commandant shows that union Home Minister P Chidambaram, who has clearly established himself as the Indian security czar over the past few months, is walking the talk and means business in winning the hearts and minds of the Kashmiris, though the BSF personnel are crying foul.

Arresting the senior officer on murder charges was a bold decision, particularly when the BSF, the world’s largest paramilitary force, has lost a large number of its men and officers in counter-terror operations in Kashmir in the past two decades. But this is a step in the right direction, though Chidambaram would have to do a lot of tightrope walking in tackling terrorism and applying the healing touch to the local Kashmiris simultaneously.

The move assumes even greater importance considering the fact that the entire Kashmir valley and the Doda region fall under the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), which, crudely put, empowers the security forces to pull down an entire house to kill a rat. The Srinagar development may have reverberations in the far-away north-eastern state of Manipur, where the now-famous activist Irom Sharmilla has been waging a lone struggle to scrap AFSPA in the state. The whole of Manipur, except the capital Imphal, is under AFSPA. Watch this space.