India’s over-reaction to United Nations report on Kashmir

Calling the United Nations a toothless body or describing the UN report as ‘idiotic’ is unlikely to change the reality on the ground in Kashmir

IANS Photo
IANS Photo

Anuradha Bhasin Jamwal

The 49-page report by the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights on Jammu and Kashmir focuses on human rights violations and excesses committed by the Indian and Pakistani establishments in the territory controlled by them and is a serious indictment of both the governments, though the major focus of the report is Kashmir Valley, particularly the period between July 2016 to April 2018.

The report seeks the establishment of a Commission of Inquiry to conduct a comprehensive independent international investigation into allegations of human rights violations in Kashmir. It also calls upon the governments of India and Pakistan to fully respect the right of self-determination of the people of Kashmir. This is the first ever UN report on Kashmir. So, what does it signify?

The report as such does not bring anything new into the public domain as it relies heavily on existing media reports and reports of human rights watchdogs. The UN no doubt is a toothless body, whose writ does not over-step the boundaries within which the interests of the five veto powers lie. The release of the report also reveals the possible shift of major global powers on the Kashmir issue. This opens up the possibility of an international push for resolution of Kashmir.

The Indian response at the diplomatic level would be to use all its might to counter that because this is extremely embarrassing. The Indian response is likely to be on predictable lines. What is difficult to predict, however, is the response of Pakistan, which has been vociferously using the Kashmir human rights narrative for decades at the United Nations to score brownie points against India.

If Pakistan is likely to rake up the recent UN report, it would have a finger pointing back at itself as well because the report is fairly balanced and speaks about the state oppression and cases of torture and killings in Pakistan Administered Kashmir as well as Gilgit and Baltistan. So far, Pakistan has not made even a slight murmur over the report.

In striking contrast to Pakistan’s silence, India’s response to the report was knee-jerk and hinged on an emphatic denial. Within hours of its release on June 14, the Indian government debunked the report and described it as “fallacious, tendentious and motivated”. It said that the findings are “overtly prejudiced” and “build a false narrative”

The strong reaction is misplaced, and it builds much of its premise on the fact that the UN team has not engaged in any field work but relied heavily on existing reports by human rights activists and independent observers. It is also a fact that India does not allow UN teams to visit Kashmir. Limitations of access to the Valley and its troubled population and not laziness or prejudice are reasons for the methodology used in compilation of the present UN report.

The reaction is a little over the top because the excesses and human rights violations mentioned in the UN report are already well documented and have so far only invited Indian government’s snub or abject silence.

The Indian reaction may have carried some weight had it coupled its dismissal with a clear acknowledgement of the wrongs perpetrated by its security agencies operating in Kashmir and by implementing its own mechanisms of justice by fairly investigating all alleged violations by the security forces. Had it shown the nerve and steel to prosecute the soldiers found responsible for human rights abuse instead of rewarding abusive soldiers, its rejection of the UN report may have not sounded so unreasonable.

But given the ground situation, where human rights excesses in the last two years, particularly the use of pellet guns, that have maimed, blinded and even killed civilians, have pushed the Kashmiris to the wall, inspiring an entire generation to fight the mighty Indian security apparatus with guns and stones in hands, this debunking of the report amounts to shooting the messenger.

India’s official position is that Kashmir is an internal matter of the country. But the only logical way to avoid internationalisation of the issue is to deal with it effectively, sensitively and in keeping with international human rights laws as well as the country’s own laws that guarantee fundamental rights to all its citizens and protection of people’s civil liberties.

Instead, two days after the UN report, either as an over-reaction to the report or the heightened violence in the last week of Ramzan including the two shocking murders of an Army personnel from Rajouri and senior journalist Shujaat Bukhari, it ended the unilateral ceasefire that had the potential of creating an enabling atmosphere for dialogue, negotiations, easing tensions and violence in Kashmir. If the exacerbated violence in the last week of the Ramzan ceasefire was aimed at derailing any peace process, New Delhi has only ended up showing immense capacity of falling for the bait from the saboteurs of peace.

At a moral level, India’s denial of UN report on grounds that Kashmir is a matter of India’s sovereignty and integrity is untenable because on several occasions in the past as an active member of United Nations Human Rights Council, India has made recommendations to other countries for improving their human rights situation

Unlike Pakistan’s silence and India’s ballistic response to the UN report, it has been received with optimism by Kashmiris who view this as a vindication of their stand and an acknowledgement at the highest global level of the crimes against humanity perpetrated by Indian security forces.

Some Indian intellectuals and senior media persons are quite off their mark in suggesting that the UN report will go against the interests of Kashmiris and help exacerbate the levels of violence. It is preposterous to draw any such connection. If at all, the UN report has the capacity to change things on the ground. It will only assuage the feeling of humiliation, hurt psyche and sense of alienation. If psychological distress is one of the factors that pushes young men to pick up arms, the UN report can have a calming impact.

Shekhar Gupta, in an article in The Print, has also argued that the UN report will compel India to harden its position in Kashmir and prompt Pakistan to send in infiltrators in bigger numbers.

The UN is a toothless body, whose recommendations are not binding on member countries but debates and discussions in the UN are used to remind countries about their international and constitutional obligations. It is difficult at this juncture to say whether India and Pakistan would be foolish enough to cause more embarrassment for themselves as the journalist predicts. Interestingly, Gupta calls the report “idiotic” without elaborating on any reasons other than the speculation of hardened positions on all sides, which are inconsistent with ground realities. His contention appears to be more in line with the Indian position of calling the UN report and its architect names without giving any valid explanation.

That there is already an existing penchant within sections of establishment both in Islamabad and New Delhi to keep the pot boiling and escalate tensions both on the borders as well as in Kashmir only shows that UN report would be used as an excuse to pursue an ideologically driven hardline approach.

The author is the Executive Editor at The Kashmir Times. The opinions expressed are personal

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