AFSPA and Kashmir: Boon or Bane?

Photo Credit: The Scribe[1]

By: Shriya Chadha

Kashmir has been a rather contentious issue ever since the creation of India and Pakistan as independent states in 1947. As a small, princely state to the north of India ruled by Maharaja Hari Singh when both countries gained independence, Kashmir had the option of acceding its territory to either India or Pakistan. However, when Pakistani forces and revolutionaries attacked the region in 1947, Maharaja Hari Singh decided to accede to India in an attempt to protect his territory. Thereafter, began a series of clashes between India and Pakistan, which included four major wars, with the issue of Kashmir being the prime source of conflict between these states.  While Pakistan claimed that since most of the population of Kashmir was Muslim, Kashmir belonged to them, India, on the other hand, claimed this territory based on the fact that Maharaja Hari Singh had signed the Instrument of Accession with it.

Due to the many battles fought over and within Kashmir, a huge number of army personnel patrol it on a regular basis. While many groups in Kashmir have demanded for the complete demilitarization of the region, there are also a large number of militant groups, allegedly funded by Pakistan’s intelligence agency Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), that have been responsible for a number of terrorist attacks in Kashmir. This security threat resulted in the enactment of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA) by the Indian government in Kashmir in 1990, which granted special powers to armed forces in “disturbed areas.” Such “special powers” include using force even if it results in death, entering any suspicious premises, and arresting suspicious individuals without a warrant. The act also provides legal immunity to army officers for their actions under AFSPA.

However, AFSPA has been subject to major criticism by human rights activists. Firstly, AFSPA does not define the term “disturbed areas.” Aside from this difficulty, the enactment of AFSPA has led to an incessant militarization of the region. Thousands of children have grown up, and continue to grow up seeing military personnel around them at all times. Structural violence, as a result, remains rampant. The constant presence of military personal in the region takes away “normalcy” from its population. Due to the existence of AFSPA, these allegedly “disturbed areas” within Kashmir always remain in a state of emergency. As Giorgio Agamben wrote in his abstract “Beyond Human Rights,” when a human being is stripped off his basic human rights, the extraordinary slowly starts becoming the norm.[2] Thus, people within Kashmir, who have grown used to seeing military encounters around them every once in a while, live in this exact situation. As a result, organizations like the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF)have demanded the freedom of Kashmir from India.

The biggest criticism of AFSPA, however, has been the human rights violations it has led to in the Kashmir valley. There have been numerous allegations of detainments under AFSPA of people who opposed the state politically, by questioning the militarization of the region or questioning the existence of the AFSPA. According to Fair Observer, 322 people were reportedly detained under the AFSPA between January and September 2010 alone.[3] Human Rights Watch, meanwhile, alleged that of the thousands of “disappearances” that occurred within the region in the years following 1989, were mainly militants killed by security forces and buried in unmarked graves. Human Rights Watch also claims that torture by security forces is widespread, and that militants are routinely executed by security forces without trial simply because they pose a security threat.[4]

Additionally, a number of cases of innocent people being killed by security forces under the cover of AFSPA exist. In one case, four civilians including an 8-year old, were shot at and killed by security forces while playing cricket.[5] In another case, on March 25, 2000, five individuals from the village of Pathribal in south Kashmir were shot and killed by army personnel under AFSPA, with the allegation that they were foreign militants. However, an investigation by the India’s primary investigation agency, the Central Bureau of Investigation proved that this was not true.

Although only three cases of sexual assault in Jammu and Kashmir by army officials exist on paper, organizations like Amnesty International estimate that this number is far greater.[6] A report by a committee headed by Justice Verma on sexual violence within the country, released in January 2013, stated that the AFSPA needs to be revised regarding the protection of women in conflict areas.[7] In April 2013, Rashida Manjoo, the UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women, called for the repeal of the law, stating that the AFSPA had “resulted in impunity for human rights violations broadly.”[8] In fact, even the Chief Minister of the state of Jammu and Kashmir, Omar Abdullah, asked the Central Government of India to either withdraw, or at least partially modify the law.[9]

A growing number of individuals within the Kashmir valley continue to protest against the Act, calling for the demilitarization of the region. AFSPA continues to exist, however, even with the pleas of the State Government of Jammu and Kashmir to remove it. And whether the Central Government chooses to revoke it remains to be seen. However, until that happens, human rights violations will certainly continue to occur.


Shriya Chadha is a first year student at the School of International Affairs at the Pennsylvania State University. She hails from New Delhi, India and holds a Bachelors degree from the University of Delhi in Economics. She has an interest in security and intelligence studies, focusing especially in South Asian and Middle Eastern affairs.


[2] Georgio Agamben, Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life, (Stanford University Press, 1998), Abstract.

[3] Tanvi, Mani, “Militarization and Impunity: The Anti-AFSPA Movement in Kashmir.” Fair Observer, June 16, 2013, <>.

[4] “Getting Away With Murder: 50 Years of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act.” Human Rights Watch, August 2008, <>.

[5] Mir, Ehsan, and Majid Jahangir, “Four Shot in Kupwara, Village Blames Army,” Indian Express, February 22, 2006, <>.

[6] “India: The Armed Forces Special Powers Act: Time for a Renewed Debate in India on Human Rights and National Security,” Amnesty International, November 8, 2013, <>.

[7] J.S. Verma, “Report of the Committee on Amendments to Criminal Law,” The Hindu, January 24, 2013, <>.

[8] “Repeal AFSPA, PSA from Kashmir and North East: UN Special Rapporteur,” Tehelka, May 1, 2013, <>.

[9] “Modification in AFSPA Should Be Looked At: Omar Abdullah.” The Times Of India, July 8, 2013, <>.

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