Govt can’t drop its guard in J&K

The Asian Age.  | Bhopinder Singh

Opinion, Oped

It is no one’s case that certain individual mistakes, excesses or even policy failures have not happened.

The concerns on the usage of pellet-firing shotguns in Kashmir are countenanced with an appeal to employ “less lethal” weapons, without specifying the shape or form of such advice. (Representational Image | PTI)

The second report on Kashmir published by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has expectedly and rightly been slammed by the Indian government as “a continuation of the earlier false and motivated narrative on the situation in the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir.” The Indian government’s sharp reaction to the report alluded to a “prejudiced mindset” that tantamounts to one that “legitimises terrorism”, and is in conformity to the reaction elicited when the first report was presented in May 2018. As compared to the first report, which was essentially targeting the Indian realm, this second report has an added dimension of capturing the situation in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (or “Pakistan-administered Kashmir”, as noted in the report). While this report is equally harsh on the governments of both India and Pakistan on human rights issues, the reactions from Delhi and Islamabad were starkly different. Delhi is horrified at the contextual parity between “the world’s largest and most vibrant democracy and a country that openly practices State-sponsored terrorism” — Islamabad, which is used to such strictures and opprobriums on a routine basis, welcomed the report as it internationalises the Kashmir issue and allows it the veneer of UN-linked concerns against India.

At the heart of Indian concern is the simplistic linearity in documenting the situation (often through unverified and biased sources), that is bereft of the accompanying context and environment that besets any region afflicted by terrorism and militancy propped by a foreign nation. The naivety of the report is implicit in the way it lazily documents reportage and concerns on Kashmir for the period between May 2018 and April 2019. It incredulously questions the deployment of “cordon and search operations” as a military tactic, as it notes “120 cases of destruction of civilian property during cordon and search operations in 2018”! While instances of reckless destruction or gross human rights violations, if any, are certainly worth investigating, however, to question the tactic of “cordon and search operations” itself in an area of armed militancy is either puerile or motivated. Similarly, its concerns on “censorship and attack on press freedom” is not nuanced to the reality of the curbs getting enforceable only in sensitive times when such liberties/freedoms are abused for mob mobilisation, the escape of insurgents and for rousing of regressive passions for destruction. Unlike Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, where such curbs are institutionalised and permanent, freedom of expression in J&K is applicable in the same quantum as in the rest of the country with various shades of dissent allowed even in state Assemblies. The concerns on the usage of pellet-firing shotguns in Kashmir are countenanced with an appeal to employ “less lethal” weapons, without specifying the shape or form of such advice. Similarly, the report’s recommendation to “urgently repeal the Armed Forces (Jammu and Kashmir) Special Powers Act, 1990” is a rote concern that makes AFSPA look like a “privilege” afforded on the armed forces, as opposed to a standard operational necessity that is deployed in all insurgency-affected areas across the world to minimise violence, destruction and loss of life onto those who are at risk themselves, acting at the behest of the sovereign. The entire spirit of the report is of either not suggesting alternatives to the existing framework of operational imperatives or issue statements that show a very poor appreciation of the ground realities.

It is no one’s case that certain individual mistakes, excesses or even policy failures have not happened. But, such “general” reports do a great disservice towards human right issues by losing the opportunity to point out such specificities for immediate correction and punitive action. Such reports almost question the “intent” of the state or its extended arm, i.e. the armed forces, to have an independent institutional view and unquestioned freedom to conduct their activities, as per their free will — this is grossly untrue as India has checks and balances of the legislative, the executive, the judiciary, political classes, civil society and NGOs to question each other. This is in stark contrast to the enthusiastic neighbour, where it is said, “Countries have armies, but in Pakistan, the Army has a country!”

The most sinister element of this report is to recommend “the possible establishment of a commission of inquiry to conduct a comprehensive independent international investigation into allegations of human rights in Kashmir.” This walks right into the hands of the Pakistanis who have tried desperately (although unsuccessfully), to move the barometer from bilateralism to that of an international issue. Towards its aim of internationalising the issue, the Pakistani state has resorted to violence (Pulwama), terrorism (supporting terror groups), overt-religiousity (eg. in the Organisation of Islamic Countries), etc, and has so far met with a stoic push back from the “Free World” and democracies who recognise the functioning of Indian democracy, albeit, with the scope to evolve and improve.

While this report makes many extended interlinkages like the “targeting of Kashmiri Muslims outside Jammu and Kashmir” and of the Indian Army’s Court of Inquiry for indicting an officer for allegedly “fraternising” with a local woman, it remains suspiciously mum on the more relevant, germane and transformational indictment of the Pakistani state by the sister multilateral organisation of OHCHR, the FATF (Financial Action Task Force). The Damocles Sword of “black listing” Pakistan for its incorrigible conduct on terrorism has invited the wrath of all its neighbours (India, Afghanistan and Iran), multilateral organisations (including the UN, which ultimately designated the Pakistan-protected Masood Azhar as an international terrorist) and powers like France, Germany, the UK and the US — who moved motions against Pakistan.

Terrorism in Kashmir is unequivocally attributable to Pakistan — but this does not absolve the Indian state to accept and correct its own governance imperatives and missteps in Kashmir. We must integrate and heal the Valley emotionally, socio-economically and democratically, without dropping our guard. The Indian state is intrinsically a “moral state” that ought to auto-correct its own conduct and governance, without the condescending, and seemingly motivated “reportage” of OHCHR.