Views from Srinagar
Z G Muhammad
Perhaps in the world there are no nations that from ab initio are endlessly engaged in war of attrition. India and Pakistan have earned this ‘sad and bad distinction.’ Since their birth as independent countries in August 1947, the two important South Asian players, now nuclear powers have continuously been exchanging mortar shells and fighting battles along the LoC. They also have been fighting diplomatic battles over the Kashmir Dispute on the international turfs in New York, Geneva, and other global play fields. Like knights in the medieval times, the permeant representatives of the two countries continuously enrich their armory of words, phrases, and clichés for outwitting each other in the ‘word- duels’ at the annual meets of the United Nations General Assembly, the United Human Right Commission and meeting at other international forums.
In both, the countries the media instead of questioning the failure of the two countries in sorting out their differences and resolving long standing disputes, that have made arms supplying countries richer and masses in the two countries poorer have been singing paeans for the diplomats for outsmarting each other at the international turfs. In fact, it has been the well calibrated celebrations on the battle of words aimed at outwitting each other at the international forums that have prolonged the disputes. Furthermore made the cloud of wars always loom large on the skies of the sub-continent and threat of a nuclear war hang like Damocles sword on 1.5 billion people in the region.
For past seven decades clashing of top Indo-Pak leadership over Kashmir at the UN General Assembly has been an annual ritual. Similarly, the Permanent Representatives of the two countries not only have been articulating the stated policies of their countries on various forums and floors of the United Nations but at times when it comes to the Kashmir Dispute, they even exchange acrimonious phrases. So has been holding true about meeting at the UN Human Rights Commission in Geneva. Nonetheless, for the past few years, the verbal duels on human rights situation in Kashmir has not remained confined only to India and Pakistan diplomats. But, it has been more between the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and MEA Government of India.
On Friday, Raj Kumar Chander Indian Ambassador and Permanent Representative to the UN offices in Geneva made to headlines in the newspapers and appeared on tickers of hundreds of television channels for almost twenty four hours. The big deal was that he had protested against the statement made by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein at 37th session of the Human Rights Council. In his 8197 word keynote address and oral update, about the human right situation across the world he had also mentioned about Kashmir. New Delhi took UN Human Rights Commissioner’s mentioning Kashmir as an umbrage and an exception. In his statement, India’s Permanent Representative denouncing the statement remarked that “the update does not reflect the situation in India adequately. There is also a reference to the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir. There is none to cross-border terrorism. Terrorism is the most fundamental violation of human rights, and we overlook its egregiousness at our peril.” Besides, he also described the statement as “selective and tendentious on human rights issues only serve to undermine the credibility of this approach.”
There is nothing big about Kashmir in the keynote address of Kashmir that should have sparked a serious reaction from New Delhi. The address starting with mentioning of fortitude, suffering, and compassion of Nelson Mandela encapsulates the contrasts to this class of politics: the narrow politicians, authoritarian in nature, prone to intolerance. Besides, it gives an overview of human rights situation in the world. The statement does say a lot about dismal situation in India. Where ‘discrimination and violence is directed at minorities, including Dalits and other scheduled castes, and religious minorities such as Muslims.’ Nonetheless, it says nothing about human rights situation in Kashmir but only reiterated what the the Commission had said earlier. That is refusal of unconditional access to both the sides of the LoC.
In 2016, for the worst ever human rights violations, Kashmir had made to the international press. Hundreds of children had been fired upon with pellets with shotguns had lost their vision. Over fifteen thousand wounded with bullets and in baton charges. Ninety children and youth shot dead. The New York Times had called the spree of blinding of children as ‘epidemic of dead eyes in Kashmir.’ The scenario of grave human rights violations had pricked conscience of human rights activists across the world and also sent shockwaves to the United Human Right Commission. In July 2016, the UN Commissioner for Human Rights had asked India and Pakistan to invite UN teams on both the sides of the line of control. Two months later on 13 September 2016 at the 33rd session of the Human Rights Council, besides repeating the demand for allowing the UN Human Rights teams to visit both parts of the state realizing the gravity of the human rights situation he had also demanded sending of an independent, impartial and international mission to the state. Candidly, he had informed the member countries that the commission ‘had received reports, and continue to do so, claiming the Indian authorities had used force excessively force against the civilian population under its administration. We furthermore received conflicting narratives from the two sides as to the cause for the confrontations and the reported large numbers of people killed and wounded.’
He had also informed the Human Rights Council that he had received a letter from the Government of Pakistan formally inviting an OHCHR team to the Pakistani side of the line of control, but in tandem with a mission to the Indian side.’ The Ministry of External Affairs had sharply reacted to the opening statement of the Commissioner for human rights and rejected permitting a human rights team to visit Jammu and Kashmir State. The demand for allowing to UNHRC team to visit the state was repeated in 2017 also.
India is not a blind spot, but it is a vibrant democracy. In the fifties it allowed one after another representatives from United Nations to visit Kashmir and has been allowing various embassies to visit Srinagar, if a team of the OHCHR is allowed to visit the state, it will enhance India’s image internationally. Furthermore, it will be a way forward for resolving the Kashmir dispute/problem.
— Courtesy: Greater Kashmir.
[The writer is Srinagar based well known columnist/author].