First UN probe in Kashmir


Daily Times

First UN probe in Kashmir

JUNE 15, 2018

Seventy years is a long time for a people to endure conflict not of their own making. To live without self-determination. It is an equally prolonged period for the United Nations of peace-loving nations to have done nothing for the people of Kashmir.

But in a possible case of better late than never — the world body has conducted and published its first-ever Report on the Situation of Human Rights in Kashmir. Though in a move that is likely to be seen as extortionate short-changing, the period of inquiry only covers the last two years: June 2016-April 2018.

Be that as it may, it is a start. And to be fair, both the Pakistani and Indian states share part of the blame for this apparent paralysis; with the two sides stalling over the question of granting UN Human Rights Commissioner ZeidRa’ad Al Hussein unconditional access to either side of the Line of Control (LoC). Meaning that the report was ultimately conducted by remote monitoring.

The findings essentially uncover nothing new. But with censure now coming from the world body — this will hopefully yield positive impact on the plight of the Kashmiri people.

Indian security forces are rebuked for having killed some 145 civilians between mid-July 2016 and the end of March 2018. And for the employment of the pellet-firing shotgun that left 17 dead while wounding some 6,221 over roughly the same period. Injuries include partial or complete blindness.

Towards this end, the UN has called for the immediate repeal of Armed Forces (Jammu and Kashmir) Special Powers Act (AFSPA); which protects security personnel from prosecution. That the Indian government has never once intervened to ensure that those who commit human rights atrocities are brought to account suggests that civilian regimes in world’s largest democracy are not immune to being subservient to the ‘national interest’.

By the same token, Pakistan comes under fire for military support of armed groups across the LoC. Here, the UN report links counter-terrorism efforts to human rights abuses; not least because of the “very broad definition of terrorism laid down in the Anti-Terrorism Act”. Indeed, it finds that the security apparatus uses this to target those demanding fundamental human rights. It also urges the Pakistani authorities to release all political activists, journalists and others convicted for peacefully exercising their right to freedom of expression.

This is where Islamabad should play smart. This means not protesting too much about the disclosures. Rather, it should quietly concentrate on putting its own house in order and let the charge sheet against New Delhi speak for itself. If Pakistan does this, it will no longer be gas-lighted on the international stage as the sole exporter of regional terror.

But more importantly, this will strengthen Islamabad’s positon when it comes to reminding the world body of then Prime Minister Abbasi’s appeal to General Assembly last year to revisit the issue of the Kashmir plebiscite. For with the first-ever UN probe into human rights abuses in the region — the momentum is now there. It just needs to be built upon.

In short, the time has come for both sides to act for the greater good of the Kashmiri people. Who have, after all, suffered enough. *

Published in Daily Times, June 15th 2018.