Imphal, November 2: The ongoing probe into cases of alleged extrajudicial killings in Manipur has not hit troop morale or led the force to rework its counter-insurgency strategy, and the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) is a “big enabler and a prerequisite” for operations in Manipur, a senior army officer said, stressing the force adhered to a strict human rights code.
Manipur chief minister N Biren Singh said the law should be reviewed, with the caveat that the decision be taken factoring in that the state shares a porous border with Myanmar. The neighbouring country is known to harbour insurgent safe havens.
“The army is doing its job. Why should our strategy change because of the probe? We have full faith in the due process of law. We are a well-trained and regimented force and there is no apprehension about troop morale,” said Major General VK Mishra, who heads the Leimakhong-headquartered 57 Mountain Division.
His comments come at a time when the Supreme Court has ordered a special investigation team (SIT) to speed up the registration of cases on alleged fake encounters in Manipur and even as at least 700 soldiers have petitioned the top court against dilution of the AFSPA that shields them from prosecution without the central government’s nod.
In July 2017, a three-judge bench constituted an SIT to probe 1,528 allegations of human rights violations by security personnel in Manipur. This was a blow to the immunity enjoyed by security forces in disturbed areas and was seen as diluting the protection under the AFSPA.
Mishra was also very clear it was not the right time to review the AFSPA or even dilute the law by withdrawing it from certain areas, given the security climate in the insurgency-hit state.
“We apprehend around 350 insurgents every year on an average. They come out on bail. They are there. Under these conditions, is it the time (to review AFSPA)? Denotifying disturbed areas can convert them into insurgent safe havens,” said Mishra, who controls counter-insurgencyoperationsinnortheast India’s most violent state.
As many as 941 security personnel and 1,942 insurgents have been killed in Manipur over the last three decades.
“AFSPA was brought in to control the situation. Naga and Manipuri insurgents were given advanced weapons by outside powers. They have AK-47s, rocket launchers and missiles,” army chief General Bipin Rawat said, responding to a question on the controversial law.
AFSPA bestows sweeping powers on the forces and prohibits prosecutions from being initiated without the go-ahead from the Centre, if the allegations are linked to the public duty of the accused. AFSPA is not in force in Imphal, an area of 34 sq km, where it was denotified in 2004.
The 700 army petitioners have questioned the apex court’s ordering of the CBI probe into alleged extra-judicial killings by the army, the Assam Rifles and the Manipur Police.
The army’s stand has been clear on AFSPA – that soldiers need special protection to discharge duties in areas that have been declared disturbed and the security situation does not merit restricting the scope of the law.
Mishra said that from training to operations, the army has an “in-built human rights” code and the force is very sensitive to such issues. The SIT is currently probing 19 army operations involving 35 deaths.
Responding to a question on the SIT probe, Biren Singh said everyone should get justice, be it the security forces or civilians.