Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s visit to Kashmir on Monday comes at most inopportune time when the entire valley is boiling with the people seething with anger over the series of grave human rights abuses, the latest being the fake encounter in Machil sector along the Line of Control followed by revelation of a number of such encounters involving the security forces.
Though the ostensible purpose of the Prime Minister is to deliver the convocation address at the Sher-e-Kashmir University of Agriculture Science and Technology he is also slated to review the political and economic situation in the State, particularly overseeing the implementation of some of the central schemes aiming at the welfare of the rural people and weaker sections of the society, during his brief visit. Though initially it was stated that the Prime Minister will avail of this opportunity to involve some of the separatist leaders in a dialogue process but subsequently the State chief minister categorically stated that dialogue with the separatist was not on the PM’s agenda during his Srinagar visit. The separatist leaders have already expressed their inability to join any such dialogue process on various grounds, including that of the grave human rights situation in the State. The graph of human rights abuses in the State has been showing an upward trend ever since the Prime Minister assured of zero tolerance to human rights abuses at the round table conference convened by him in 2006. There was no doubt slight improvement on the human rights front when the PDP- Congress coalition assumed office in 2002 with its commitment to pursue a healing touch policy, abandoning the policy of strong-arm methods, which in the past had only added to the alienation of the people. Though that policy was implemented half-heartedly and several necessary measures like the reduction of troops and revocation of Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) which arm the security forces with blanket powers and provide them impunity for their actions were not taken still some of the adopted measures did contribute in creating a comparatively relaxed atmosphere. A few other confidence building measures like the opening of Srinagar-Muzaffrabad road for the movement of the people across the LoC, despite several hassles, too helped in moving forward on the road to peace by creating a conducive climate for pursuing a dialogue process.
Undeniably, the graph of human rights abuses is going up for the past over one year when a number of incidents of the killing of innocent youth followed by the double rape and murder case of Shopian occurred in the Valley. Since then a number of other such incidents like the fake encounter in Machil area have been reported. Apart from the gruesome nature of such incidents what has compounded the situation is the moves to cover up such crimes. Not in a single case the culprits have been brought to book. It is the culture of impunity that has actually encouraged the security forces to resort to such grave human rights abuses without any fear of action against them. Not in a single case those responsible for such heinous crimes have been punished. In most of the cases no independent inquiry has been held and in a few cases where such inquiries were ordered, as in the Pathribal killings, the culprits have not only gone scot free but have also been rewarded with promotions. Prime Minister’s commitment of zero tolerance to human rights abuses simply remains a rhetoric in the face of the abject failure of the agencies under him in bringing the violators of such abuses to book. Prime Minister’s present visit can be useful in creating a climate of trust if he ensures that independent and credible inquiries are held into all such cases of fake encounters, custodial killings or other killings of innocents and other such human rights abuses. It is equally important to hold fresh inquiries into the Shopian murder and rape case and several other such cases where the justice has been denied. Dr Singh can avail of this opportunity by announcing his government’s decision to scrap the AFSPA and other draconian laws and release of all political leaders, languishing in jails without trial. It was the working group appointed by him and headed by A.H.Ansari, presently Vice President of India, which in its report had recommended repeal of AFSPA and other draconian laws which impinge on the fundamental rights of the people. A decision to reduce the level of deployment of armed forces in the civilian areas, in view of the sharp decrease in the acts of militancy, will indeed go a long way in reducing the trust deficit, necessary to involve the separatist leaders in a meaningful dialogue process for resolving the crisis.