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New Delhi: English newspaper editorials across the breadth of the country struck a similar chord with most either pushing for a relook at the AFSPA or holding security forces and the Union government accountable for the incident that has cost the lives of 15 civilians at the hands of security forces in Mon district of Nagaland.
The New Indian Express editorial has questioned the chain of events, bluntly asking why a covert operation was conducted in an area “where there has been no active insurgency for years, if not decades”. In the light of ceasefire agreements, the Army’s claim “defies logic,” the paper says.
“In fact, insurgency in almost all parts of the Northeast, except perhaps Manipur, is largely dormant after the Central government signed ceasefire agreements with most rebel groups in the region and peace talks are underway with all of them. The few groups that have not signed any agreement are Manipur’s People’s Liberation Army and Assam’s Paresh Baruah faction of the ULFA.
“So the Army statement on Sunday citing credible information of insurgent movement in Mon appears to defy logic as it suggests that insurgents continue to attack, loot and pillage, which is not the case.”
The editorial also notes that an FIR by the police does not necessarily mean that the guilty Army personnel will be brought to book as the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, provides protection to the personnel from any prosecution unless it is sanctioned by the Central government.
“None of the statements by the authorities so far indicates that, if found guilty, sanction will be granted and due process of law will follow,” the editorial notes.
The Hindustan Times has called the killings “a blot on the Indian State’s record.”
“The fact that it happened in a state with a history of opposition to the Centre, and where the degree of alienation from New Delhi remains high, has added a strong political layer to the killings.”
The editorial notes that “instead of a strategy of denial and obfuscation, both the government and the armed forces have recognised their mistake, expressed regret (including in Parliament), and set up an investigative team and a court of enquiry.”
However, the Nagaland police report and the BJP’s Mon district president Nyawang Konyak, as reported by The Wire, have noted that the security forces had initially attempted a cover up.
“This investigation must be fair, hold all those responsible accountable, be concluded rapidly, and provide justice for a humane process of healing,” HT has held.
On fair investigations, Times of India‘s editorial has noted brazenly the fact that AFSPA itself is a roadblock
“Let’s remember that past inquiries haven’t inspired confidence because no soldier operating under the AFSPA has been charged, far less put behind bars, for killing civilians.”
The editorial also draws a parallel between the Northeast and Jammu and Kashmir when it notes, “For example, in over 20 years the Centre has denied prosecution sanction under AFSPA in all cases recommended by the J&K government against army men.”
The TOI editorial, like others, comments on the politics of the region, the junta’s takeover of Myanmar bolstering insurgency and the spectre of peace talks breaking down.
The Telegraph‘s editorial notes that the Bharatiya Janata Party government could face the ire of the opposition and the brunt of peace talks failing, thus emboldening insurgents in Nagaland.
Like most other editorials, this one points to the “ambience of impunity” under the AFSPA.
“A line of thought argues that at the heart of such oversight lies the prevailing ambience of impunity: the absence of accountability stems from the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act that, allegedly, is used as a legal shield to deflect charges of men in uniform perpetrating collateral civilian damage, staged encounters and extra-judicial killings.”
The editorial also adds, “What must also be debated is the army’s deployment in civilian areas, a strategy that runs the risk of spatial militarization.”
The Indian Express, in its editorial, has called for caution and is notably the only leading English newspaper editorial that does not mention the AFSPA at all.
While asking the Union government to “reach out to the families of the bereaved and act fast to address the breach of trust between the local population and state agencies,” it also asked political parties, community leaders, and the security forces, to calm tempers.
The editorial also spent space to describe what it considers the political background of the killings, appearing to ascribe responsibility not just to the security forces but also to political leadership and civil society for the violence.
“The Mon incident comes close on the heels of the killing of a commanding officer of Assam Rifles, along with six others, in Manipur last month. The tenuous peace in the region, where multiple insurgent groups have been operating for years, can snap at any time if the political leadership, security forces and the civil society cease to be vigilant.”
The editorial also mentions the killing of seven, along with a commanding officer of the Assam Rifles, in Manipur, last month. The recent incident could hold up peace talks further, it says.