Human Rights Crisis in Kashmir and Slumbering World

The world’s silence over rampant human rights violations in the Indian Occupied Kashmir is a tragedy by itself.

The unresolved Kashmir dispute is at the heart of the India-Pakistan conflict. Kashmir is not only a territorial conflict but a matter of Human rights violations and regional stability. The tension between India and Pakistan has grown more perilous since India’s action of scrapping the autonomous status for Occupied Kashmir enshrined in Article 370 of (India’s) Constitution and bifurcated the occupied region into two separate Union territories – Muslim majority Jammu and Kashmir and Buddhist dominated Ladakh. A new wave of suppression was unleashed in the runup as India imposed a curfew in Indian Illegally Occupied Kashmir (IIOK) and deployed thousands of troops in the valley. Indian forces in Kashmir continually commit human Rights violations; non-combatant civilians and political leaders have been detained with charge, public meetings are banned, thousands of the security check posts have been established, and a communication blackout has been enforced. Resultantly, ordinary people are suffering from a constant lack of basic living necessities and medical supplies have become scarce.

The Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) unilateral move of abrogation of article 370, new domicile rules and ongoing strict restrictions in IIOK has raised the question about the status of democracy in the self-proclaimed “world’s largest democracy”. In tandem, India has also engaged in military buildup along the Line of Control and Working Boundary. The current situation has the ingredients of unintended escalation in the Kashmir crisis. The emerging dynamics have demonstrated the reality that Modi’s anti-Pakistan’s policy is not merely an electoral strategy but linked with Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and BJP’s extremist vision of Hindu nationalism. Unfortunately, Pakistan’s policymakers viewed BJP’s manifesto as another political rhetoric to gain the support of RSS extremists in the elections. After India’s move of scrapping article 370, Pakistan activated its bilateral and multilateral diplomacy.

Dimensions of Kashmir Conflict

Kashmir issue acquires a growing significance when in the backdrop of nuclearization of South Asia, a handful of Indian lobbyists overemphasize the issue by terming it as a possible “nuclear flashpoint” in the region. It is important to note that the elements of strategic stability are gaining strength in the South Asian region. Though in the light of atomic weapons, the perils of an armed conflict are more serious and alarming, but strategic stability and deterrence equilibrium have played a key role in reducing the chances of an armed conflict during the times of heightened tensions e.g., parliamentary attacks of 2001-2002, Mumbai terrorist attacks of 2008, violations of cease fire agreement and Indian fabricated claims of the surgical strikes and establishing so called new norm.

India has played the card of cross-border terrorism after the Indian Parliament (2001), Mumbai (2008), Pathankot (2016) and Uri (2016) attacks, and successfully diverted the attention from the vital issue of its occupation of Kashmir and the human rights abuses being committed there. In September 2016, India’s false rhetoric of surgical strike for domestic political gains underscored the irresponsible strategic behaviour of India against the nuclear-armed neighbour. Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran has already stated that “Pakistan not only opposes all such activities but has also increased its vigilance to prevent militants from taking advantage of the situation.” Nonetheless, the right of self-determination and freedom movement against Indian atrocities must not be linked with terrorism. Pakistan has activated its diplomacy to sensitize the international community on the human right violations and subjugation of the Kashmiri people. However, the geopolitical interests of major powers continue to limit Pakistan’s policy. Meanwhile, the indigenous resistance movement of Kashmiris against repression by Indian security forces, which entered a new phase with the killing of Burhan Wani by occupation troops in July 2016 and abrogation of Article 370 and 35 (A), intensified. The situation was ripe for a significant crisis to erupt as younger generation of Kashmiris sought to defend themselves against brutal repression by Indian forces. With the worsening situation in Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu and Kashmir (IIOJK) and India’s illegal unilateral decisions, relations between Islamabad and New Delhi were bound to further deteriorate . India’s state-sponsored suppression in Kashmir was highlighted in a report commissioned by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and other international reports.

Human Rights Atrocities and Kashmir Issue

Since the partition of the sub-continent, the Kashmir issue has been described as the unfinished agenda of the partition of British India. Now, many more aspects have been added, such as human rights violations and socioeconomic dimensions. Human rights violations in Kashmir are an ongoing issue, and the international community must understand that Kashmir is not only a territorial conflict but a matter of abuse to humanity. Indian forces in Kashmir continually commit war crimes. There are brutal killings of Muslims, youth are slaughtered, civilians are arrested and then killed during custody, endless incidents of gang rape, and the people suffer from a constant lack of medical and basic living necessities. A new wave of brutality raised its head in Kashmir in 2016. A massive uprising occurred against pellet-firing guns, murders, mysterious disappearances, fake encounters and other atrocities by the Indian army. The United Nations Human Rights Commission (UNHRC) issued a detailed report on Kashmir in June 2018 (the first-ever report after 72 years). It highlights India’s state-sponsored criminal activities in Kashmir. The Commission found “excessive use of force by security forces” and “unlawful killings and a very high number of injuries”, as 147 Kashmiris were killed between 2016 and 2018.

What was missing from the report was the attempt by the Indian government to change the demography of Kashmir. To bring about the demographic changes, India has initiated  a systematic increases in the ratio of the Hindu population. The key objective of the demographic change is to increase the representation of Hindus in the Valley and reduce the representation of the Jammu & Kashmir National Conference and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to achieve their desired outcome if a plebiscite is held under the United Nations.

It is also pointed out in Reports that Indian forces used “one of the most dangerous weapons,” i.e., “pellet-firing shotguns,” which killed 17 persons and injured thousands, besides making them partially/completely blind. The report also condemned the criminal legal code in place for the security forces, in the name of the Armed Forces (Jammu and Kashmir) Special Powers Act, 1990, and Jammu and Kashmir Public Safety Act, 1978. The former act grants immunity to the security forces from any prosecution for their killings. At the same time, the latter provides immunity against any misuse of the law through kidnappings or making enforced/ involuntary disappearances, including sexual violence against women.

In the last 28 years, not a single case has been prosecuted against any security person, as the laws do not grant justice or a chance for appeal to the victim. What was missing from the report was the attempt by the Indian government to change the demography of Kashmir. To bring about the demographic changes, India has started systematic increases in the ratio of the Hindu population. The key objective of the demographic change is to increase the representation of Hindus in the Valley and reduce the representation of the Jammu & Kashmir National Conference and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to achieve their desired outcome if a plebiscite is held under the United Nations. The United Nations Human Rights Commission (UNHRC) has proposed that any negotiated political settlement “must entail a commitment to end a cycle of violence and ensure accountability for the past and current human rights violations and abuses and provide redress for the victims”. However, the irony is that the so called champions of human rights have been quiet on India’s gross human rights violations. The burning question is that why is the international community a silent spectator?

Abrogation of Article 370

Indian government scrapped the autonomous status for Occupied Kashmir enshrined in Article 370 of (India’s) Constitution and bifurcated the occupied region into two separate Union territories – Muslim majority Jammu and Kashmir and Buddhist dominated Ladakh. The special autonomous status enjoyed by Occupied Kashmir under Article 370 was revoked in entirety through a presidential order called The Constitution (Application to Jammu and Kashmir) Order 2019. A Presidential order does not require parliamentary approval, and therefore it became effective immediately. The now-repealed Article 370 guaranteed the Muslim-majority state of IIOJK a great deal of autonomy. It allowed IIOJK to have its own constitution, distinctive and separate flag and independence over all matters except foreign affairs, defense and communications.

Similarly, Article 35A empowered the local legislature in IIOJK to define permanent residents of the region. This Article came into being in 1954 through a presidential order under the Indian Constitution’s Article 370. Article 35A had its own significance as it forbade Indians from outside the state from permanently settling, buying land, holding local government jobs or winning education scholarships in the region.

The spirit behind Article 370 and 35A was to protect the identity and culture of the Kashmiri people and preserve Kashmir’s demographic character. Pakistan’s goal is to convince India to restore the special status of IIOJK, lift the communication blackout and ease restrictions imposed on the general population in Kashmir. Meanwhile, India is using the rhetoric of terrorism as a strategy to divert the international community’s attention from the grim reality of IIOJK, aiming to negate the freedom struggle of Kashmiris and their right of self-determination. Additionally, India introduced new domicile laws in IIOJK after the abrogation of Articles 370 and 35A to bring demographic changes in Kashmir. Under the Jammu and Kashmir Civil Services act, a person residing in Jammu and Kashmir for 15 years or studying for seven years is eligible for the Domicile. Such laws are the Indian government attempts to change disputed territory’s demography.

Though, following the India’s move of scrapping Article 370, Pakistan activated its bilateral and multilateral diplomacy. Foreign Minister visited Beijing for consultations on the emerging situation, and days later, United Nations Security Council also held ‘informal consultations on the India-Pakistan tensions on Kashmir dispute. Additionally, Pakistan should take the following multilateral measures to fight Kashmir’s case:

  • Aggressive diplomacy needs to be pursued to gain the international community’s support. Delegations comprising members of all political parties should be sent to key capitals to highlight the grave situation in IIOJK and present Pakistan’s position. This will signal unanimous domestic political support in Pakistan for the issue of Kashmir.
  • Pakistan should go an extra mile in mobilizing the Pakistani and Kashmiri diaspora in the U.S.
  • Pakistani diplomats can facilitate meetings between representatives of the diaspora and American lawmakers and policymakers. PM Khan should also participate in these meetings.
  • Pakistan’s message on the Kashmir issue should be consistent: highlighting the international community’s urgent intervention in Kashmir amid Human Rights violations.

Kashmir Issue and Global Actors

For more than seven decades, the Kashmir issue remained an unresolved issue on the agenda of the United Nations. There is no response from the regional and global players on human rights violations. The insularity of international organizations and India’s rejection of third-party mediation are the key factors that have driven the Kashmir movement towards an unending stalemate.

The UNSC resolutions have recognized the right of the people of Jammu and Kashmir to decide their own future through a process of self-determination that allows them to exercise their will through a transparent and free plebiscite held under the supervision of the United Nation’s observers. India’s government officials and representatives in the UN agreed to hold a plebiscite for the final solution. Later, India followed the delaying tactics regarding holding the plebiscite. Now India has stepped back from the initial commitment that it gave to the people of Jammu and Kashmir and the international community at the United Nations.

It is essential to understand that Kashmir is a multilateral issue involving Pakistan, India, Jammu & Kashmir, the United Nations and the international community. The silence of the international community and the so-called civilized powers is meaningful but not surprising. India is a big market for European countries and the United States. These countries are high stakeholders in the United Nations as well. It is evident that developed countries’ economic and strategic interests have priority over human rights abuses in Kashmir. The geopolitical and strategic interests of regional and global powers are more important than morality and human rights.

For more than seven decades, the Kashmir issue remained an unresolved issue on the agenda of the United Nations. There is no response from the regional and global players on human rights violations. The insularity of international organizations and India’s rejection of third-party mediation are the key factors that have driven the Kashmir movement towards an unending stalemate.

The global powers may have a collective responsibility to protect human rights and initiate a dialogue between two nuclear powers to maintain peace and stability in the region, but they are oblivious to this. In these circumstances, what should be the viable course of action? A realistic solution appears to increase pressure on India to implement the UNHRC recommendations. The Commission urges India to repeal its repressive criminal laws, establish credible investigation and prosecution against the crimes committed under those laws, and revise the laws in consonance with international human rights laws. The United States, China and Russia must also play their part in ensuring that India implements the UNHRC reports. A viable strategy could be to engage China to bring India and Pakistan to the talking table as threats and challenges linked with the Kashmir conflict are also viewed as a potential of China’s economic initiatives in the region. China is a global power and the region’s economic hub. It has the potential to initiate a peace process in South Asia. Pakistan should also emphatically demand the implementation of United Nations resolutions as self-determination is a legal and moral right of the people of Kashmir. Based on UN resolutions, Pakistan should develop a strong counter-narrative on legal aspects of the Kashmir issue. Proactive diplomacy is also required incorporating an effective strategy by Pakistan’s policymakers to project India’s human rights violations.

 

 

 

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About Asma Khalid 11 Articles
Author is Editor of the Melange International Magazine and Research Associate at Center of Pakistan and International Relations (COPAIR). Her research interests include South Asian Security and Strategic issues. Her analysis of these issues has featured in national and international publication platforms.