New Delhi: Whilst military writers are justifiably exercised over suggestions of track 2 peaceniks to pullout from Siachen, their anger must simultaneously focus on the army chief, General Bikram Singh, and his alleged shenanigans with the Jammu and Kashmir chief minister, Omar Abdullah, to withdraw the Armed Forces’ Special Powers Act (AFSPA) incrementally from the state.

AFSPA provides legal cover to the army in counterinsurgency operations. Under AFSPA, army personnel cannot be prosecuted for their actions without the consent of the Central government, which is rarely given. In J and K (as in Punjab and Assam earlier), it is the army which has contained terrorism. There was a time in the early 1990s when the Centre had given up on the state, when the first of the “pro-azadi” groups had spread its influence rapidly. It is the army which retrieved the situation when Central intelligence failed and the local police sided with the insurgency. AFSPA was amended and applied to J and K, and all told, it has assisted the state to keep on top of the terrorism situation.

AFSPA has been a bugbear for Omar Abdullah for no other reason than that he has been a failure as J and K’s chief minister and finds it politically expedient to demand its withdrawal. Omar has excellent communications skills but zero vision, in which he resembles the dynasts in power in Delhi and Lucknow. To boot, he has a fiery opposition leader in Mehbooba Mufti of the PDP who has an accommodative relationship with the insurgent elements of the state. When young and misguided Kashmiri stone-throwers two summers ago almost seemed to get the better of Omar Abdullah, another dynast, Rahul Gandhi, threw him a lifeline, on which basis he continues as chief minister.

Early in his tenure, Omar cooked up a bizarre scheme with the then Union home minister, P.Chidambaram, to hand over the paramilitaries’ anti-insurgency tasks to the local police, which is both mixed up with the separatists and otherwise inadequate for a bigger fighting role against them. Framed-up rape charges against some paramilitary troops in Shopian (later disproved) became the reason to seek the ouster of the paramilitaries from the Valley, nearly bowing to which demand Omar Abdullah and Chidambaram played into the hands of the terrorists, until this writer explained the insidious psy-war (Commentary, “Bad news”, 3 July 2009). Omar Abdullah’s demand for AFSPA’s withdrawal from Jammu and Kashmir has predated that crisis and grown stronger since.

Omar Abdullah believes AFSPA’s removal would open the Kashmiri floodgates of love and affection for him. Not true. Sheikh Abdullah was an iconic leader of Kashmir, and Kashmiris were willing to forgive him quite a lot. His son and Omar’s father, Farooq, is a bit of a buffoon, with no vision for Kashmir, but he is a genial mixer. Farooq gets on easily with his people, even though they may not agree with his politics. Omar Abdullah, on the other hand, is the least sociable of the Abdullah clan. He prefers running Kashmir with a handful of officials from the safety and security of his chief minister’s bungalow. He is distant with his own party colleagues and has little interaction with the people. There is no connect between Omar Abdullah and Kashmiris. He might as well be administrating the state from Delhi.

Omar Abdullah knows he is on a very weak wicket in J and K, and that he will be thrown out in the next election. He needs something -- anything -- to befuddle and bamboozle Kashmiris. Kashmiri politicians in their engagements with the Centre have traditionally played the Kashmir card, which in substance means, “After me, the Deluge.” With Kashmiris, these same politicians pose as being anti-Centre. Being politically savvy, the Kashmiris have seen through this game long ago. But Omar Abdullah, all the same, cannot give up posing, and in one of those poses, he wants AFSPA to be rolled back from Kashmir.

No army chief or field commander has supported Omar Abdullah. In his own inoffensive way, the defence minister, A.K.Anthony, has rejected Abdullah’s demand. In its confused libertinism, the Manmohan Singh government may yet agree to AFSPA’s withdrawal, but the rest of the political class, and particularly the BJP, will object. The strategic community will not stand for it. Faced with a wall, Omar Abdullah seemed to have reconciled to the continued operation of AFSPA, but the appointment of a new army chief, General Bikram Singh, appears to have given him a new unexpected opportunity.

The chief hurdle that General Singh faced in his appointment was a case of alleged human rights’ violation in 2001 in Anantnag in a place called Janglat Mandi. As a brigadier, he is supposed to have killed a beggar in a false encounter. A relatively unknown J and K NGO filed a PIL against him, which in turn became the basis for a second PIL in the Supreme Court against General Singh’s appointment as army chief, which was rejected. The Kashmir NGO, however, is pursuing its PIL in the state high court, and press reports allege a section of the army is trying to hush the matter in the interest of the chief.

There is new intelligence that suggests the army chief has allegedly pressed on Omar Abdullah to somehow bring the false encounter case to a closure. In return, General Bikram Singh has reportedly assured that the army will not oppose his demands on AFSPA as before. Except that a crucial army commander who has to author and initiate this changed line has refused, saying that any dilution of AFSPA will lead to a successful terrorists’ disruption of the 2014 general elections in the state, a key aim of Pakistan to internationalize the Kashmir issue all over again. General Bikram Singh has allegedly threatened the obdurate army commander with a transfer to a lesser command, but he remains unfazed. The army chief has now plans to get a supine army commander who will agree with his scheme to weaken and eventually remove AFSPA from Jammu and Kashmir.

All to save his skin.

General Bikram Singh has been bad news for the Indian Army from the start. That it would get so worse still comes as a surprise. Next you know he will signal a withdrawal from Siachen. This man must be stopped.