India’s top military general has argued for the continuing presence of soldiers in Indian-administered Kashmir in view of the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan that may result in a "terrorist spill-over" into the disputed region.
General Bikram Singh also rejected demands for the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) to be scrapped in the disputed region.
Rights activists say the special powers enable Indian soldiers to act with impunity in the region that they say is one of the world's most heavily militarised zones.
"We need to look at developments in Afghanistan in 2014 before we can look at perhaps tampering with or diluting the disturbed areas (act). This is in regard to the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) in Jammu and Kashmir," agencies quoted Singh as having told journalists on the eve of Army Day in the Indian capital New Delhi.
It would be prudent to "wait and watch for a while" before taking a call on AFSPA, he said.
"As per the military's perspective, (in view of) the situation prevailing in the valley, I think we should wait for a while to see whether the situation remains the same, worsens or improves. Based on that we should take action," the army chief said.
In a word of caution, he said perhaps there may be a certain amount of spill-over from Afghanistan into Jammu and Kashmir. "There are certain inputs alluding to this already. And, therefore, we need to be on guard," he said.
He described the AFSPA as a national strategy and that the army was implementing it. He also insisted that the Indian army had "zero tolerance" for human rights violations.
The contentious AFSPA was enacted in 1958 for implementation in India’s “disturbed areas”. Besides being in effect in Kashmir, AFSPA is in vogue in parts of the country’s north-east.
Critics of the act have for long expressed concerns that it has helped security forces violate human rights including arbitrary killings, torture and disappearances.
A leading critic, senior lawyer and leading member of the Aam Aadmi Party Prashant Bhushan had recently suggested a referendum to see whether people wanted the army in Kashmir or not.
Kashmir is at the heart of a dispute between India and Pakistan since partition and independence in 1947 with both countries claiming the state as their own. The two neighbours have fought three wars over the region - in 1947-48, 1965 and 1999.