Kashmir is no longer an `internal affair’

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October 13, 2019

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By Sumanta Banerjee

Despite all the cringing efforts made by our newly appointed foreign minister S. Jaishankar to cajole the UN and the European Community to fall in line with the Modi government’s claim that developments in Kashmir are India’s `internal affair’, the exposure of the horrid happenings in Srinagar and other parts of the Valley through the international media is making Modi stink in world public opinion.

While he keeps on hugging Trump – the latter giving him the certificate that he speaks `good English’ (which has elevated his stature among the English-speaking Indian elite) – Modi had always been regarded as a pariah of sorts by global human rights organizations like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, which had come out with reports exposing the atrocities by his government. But with his latest step of misadventure in Kashmir, he is attracting the attention of a wider segment of international institutions – an attraction which may not be to his liking. For instance, he has been put under the scanner of the Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights (OHCHR). Following the crackdown in Kashmir after the abrogation of Article 370 , the OHCHR issued a statement from Geneva on August 22, 2019, saying: “ The shutdown of the internet and telecommunication networks without justification from the government, are inconsistent with the fundamental norms of necessity and proportionality …the blackout is a form of collective punishment of the people of Jammu and Kashmir, without even a pretext of a precipitating offence.”

The EEC which Modi is trying to woo, is not willing to back his Kashmir policy, as evident from the statement issued by the European Parliament’s Committee on Foreign Affairs (AFET) from Brussels on September 2, which demanded that the Indian government should immediately lift the curfew in Kashmir, which in its opinion, had created humanitarian crisis.

In spite of Modi’s efforts, with the help of a subservient media, to bolster up his image as a saviour of Kashmir (by abrogating Article 370) and tall claims of opening it up to investments from business houses, the ground reality in the Valley mocks at his image. However much the Adanis and Ambani type patron-cum-toadies among the business houses promise to set up industries in the Valley, they will have to face a hostile populace. They cannot be bought off by jobs, as long as they retain their traditional sense of self-respect as Kashmiris and unwilling to submit to a plan of industrialization that will destroy their environment and their identity. These crony capitalists will thus have to set up their industrial plants within walled barriers protected by security forces, and employ migrants from outside to man them.

There are two narratives. One flags pictures of Modi receiving thunderous applause from expatriate Indians at a meeting in Houston in September, and of Kashmiri youth joining the Indian army, on TV channels that are subservient appendage to the official media. The other narrative is of a counter demonstration held at the same Houston site by other sections of the Indian expatriate against Modi’s communal policies. Pictures of this demonstration never appeared on our TV channels. Nor did these channels show pictures of Indian security forces firing pellets to blind Kashmiri youth who pelt stones at them – visuals which are available to us through the BBC and other foreign news agencies. This latter narrative which has been confirmed by reports by the UN is dismissed by the Modi government as `fallacious’, alleging that the reports were not based on direct ground level evidence. But ironically, it is the Indian government itself which had been denying the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights – despite its repeated requests all these years – unrestricted access to Kashmir to investigate into allegations of human rights violation. Given this restriction, the OHCHR naturally had to depend on reports of local Kashmiri human rights activists and reporters, and Indian civil liberties organizations (which enjoy international reputation) for the preparation of its reports.

The Modi government’s policy of gerrymandering

By announcing its decision to scrap Articles 370 and 35-A, the Modi government has gerrymandered the UNO-guaranteed constitutional geography of the state of Jammu and Kashmir, and robbing it of its autonomous rights. Following this announcement, the Indian government is not only barring foreign observers (from the UN), but even Indian Opposition politicians from visiting the Valley. It prevented a team led by the Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, CPI(M) leader Sitaram Yechury, CPI leader Mr. Raja and others from stepping out from the Srinagar airport in August. Later that month, it made an exception in the case of Yechury, who was allowed to meet his sick party colleague, M.Y. Tarigami (in house-arrest), but on the condition that he would not open his mouth to the media, or the public, during his stay in Kashmir ! Sometime later, it allowed the National Conference representatives to meet their leaders Faruq Abdullah and Omar Abdullah in their houses, which have been turned into prisons. By such a gesture, the Modi government may want to impress the world public with an image of normalcy in Kashmir. But it cannot hide the fact that the National Conference leaders , as well as those from the People’s Democratic Party still remain in police custody, under house-arrest, confined to their homes.

In these circumstances, the government’s decision to hold Block Development Council elections in Jammu and Kashmir on October 24, appears like a hypocritical façade. With all the political parties there, refusing to take part in the polls because of the absence of a free environment, the elections will naturally lead to the victory of the candidates of the BJP – the only party to contest the polls.

Similarly, when the Jammu and Kashmir governor announced that schools and colleges have been reopened – to give a semblance of normalcy – the Kashmiri people rejected his appeal by refusing to send their children to the education institutions in protest against the presence of the Indian armed forces there, and in the midst of an environment of military occupation.

These are signs of a simmering popular civil disobedience of, and non-cooperation with, the current dispensation that rules Kashmir. The Kashmiri people are kept incommunicado from the rest of India and the world, although protests keep erupting and heard by social activists who circulate them through alternative media. Reacting to such exposures of human rights violation by the Indian armed forces, the Indian government spokespersons, in a knee-jerk reaction of sorts, denounce them as intervention in our internal affairs.’ Domestic critics of these measures inside India are branded as anti-nationalists,’ secessionists,’ and Pakistani agents.’ These terms are used by the ruling party at the Centre to stifle all criticism against its plan to impose a centralized unitary system of governance to replace the federal system. As it is, it is alienated from the local people in Kashmir in the north-west, and Nagaland and Manipur in the north-east. It also faces opposition from the regional parties in the south, which protest against increasing central encroachment on their autonomy. The Modi government has not only failed to sort out these `internal affairs,’ but has further created a mess by the abrogation of Section 370, as a result of which there is sure to be exacerbation of violence in the volatile Valley, where street protests are already breaking out.

Modi offers Imran Khan a platter

But apart from further antagonizing the people of the Valley, by taking this rash step, Modi has virtually handed the tangled up issue of Kashmir to his counterpart in Pakistan on a platter. Imran Khan has jumped on this as an opportunity to fish again in the troubled waters of Kashmir. While shedding crocodile tears over the plight of the Kashmiris, pledging support to their `freedom fight’, and appealing to the conscience of the UN and the international public opinion about the human rights violation by the Indian security forces, Imran Khan is canny enough (as he is advised by his bosses in the Pakistan army headquarters and the ISIS) to use this opportunity to his best advantage. There is wide-spread disgruntlement among the public in the Valley against the continuing curfew and occupation by security forces, who are raiding homes and indiscriminately picking up young Kashmiri Muslims and torturing them in their custody. Although suppressed by the Indian media, their voices are being heard all over the world through the international media like the BBC, Washington Post, New York Times, and other means. (Re: Washington Post video of a Kashmiri father breaking down after his minor son was taken away by the security forces – https:www.telegraph.ndid.com>shock-torture-to-kashmiris>cid).

It is this mood of public anger that is providing the Pakistani military establishment with an excellent chance to send its terrorist infiltrators into the Valley to recruit the disgruntled youth there, and expand its base in a movement which originally began as demand for `azadi’ (an independent Kashmir – free from both Indian and Pakistan administration), but getting disoriented towards a pro-Pak direction. Ominous signs are already being seen in pictures of some protestors waving Pakistan flags in street demonstrations.

Modi’s image abroad versus the ground reality in India

Narendra Modi has managed to shake hands with Trump, his political twin , at the G 7 summit – a scene celebrated as some sort of a historical event by the Indian media, trumping it as US approval of the Indian government’s latest policy on Kashmir. But given Trump’s opportunist mercurial temperament, he greets Imran Khan and shakes hands with him (in a replica of the Modi-Trump handshake) promising to mediate in the Kashmir dispute ! After all, Trump needs Imran Khan and his army to extricate the US from the mess that both had created in Afghanistan.

Frankly speaking, Narendra Modi has made the Indian state stink in world public opinion. He has managed to reduce India’s position to that of a skunk that is abhorred by the UN Human Rights Commission, which has repeatedly come out with reports exposing the violation of human rights by his soldiers in Kashmir, as well as other parts of India. Under his stewardship, the Indian media owners have been turned into his stooges – threatened by the rats of CBI, ED and other agencies. The international body of journalists, Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), in its latest statement issued on August 23, 2019 expressed concerns over the situation (in Kashmir) and demanded immediate steps to restore communications.

The ugly smell emanating from the Valley – from pellet-blinded youngsters, curfew-bound citizens deprived of medical needs, enforced silence on house-arrest bound politicians – is spreading a foul miasma in other parts of India. The Centre’s policy of clamping down on Kashmir (spreading even to extent of preventing Indian national Opposition party leaders to enter Srinagar) is a premonition of what is awaiting the rest of India, and the fate of regional and national political parties. Under Modi’s governance, with the dissemination of the Opposition (whose leaders and members are joining the ruling party in droves – indicating the totally a-political and opportunist instincts of the MLAs and MPs who were nominated by the Congress, CPI, CPI(M) and other secular parties during all these years), we may soon have a Latin-America type `banana republic,’ under the rule of a single party and its mafia, consisting of mercenary politicians.

Role of the security forces

A very important prop for the present Indian republic is made up of security forces operating under various nomenclatures like the CRPF, BSF, Assam Rifles and other para-military organizations. They have gained notoriety for their misdeeds – the most infamous being the Kunan-Poshpora incident of gang-rape of Kashmiri women by the Rajputana Rifles security forces during search operations in the twin villages on February 23 and 24, 1991. A few years later, in Manipur in 2004, a young woman Thangjam Manorama was abducted, raped and killed by the 17th Assam Rifles personnel. In a demonstration of protest, Manipuri mothers stood in the nude in front of the camp of the para-military soldiers, shouting the sslogan: “Indian army, rape us “ !

Both these events, which caught international attention, took place during the Congress regime at the Centre. After having coming to power, since 2014 the BJP regime has further nourished these rapist and murderous instincts among the security forces, through the anti-Muslim vitriolic speeches that its MLAs and MPs spew out in public, and by allowing the Sangh Parivar –sponsored cow-protection vigilantes to lynch Muslims. The BJP leaders have come out openly in support of the accused security force personnel involved in the rape of a woman in Jammu’s Kathua in January, 2018.

It is this encouragement from the ruling power that nourishes the anti-Muslim sentiments among the members of the para-military forces, who would go to any extreme to appease their twin employers – the Amit Shah led Home Ministry, and the Rajnath Singh led Defence Ministry. A typical example of this aggressive mood is provided by the speech of a CRPF constable during a debate organized by the National Human Rights Commission on September 27, 2019. The debate was on how terrorism and militancy can be tackled effectively while observing human rights. The female constable, Khushboo Chauhan won a consolation prize for supporting the hanging of Afzal Guru, the suspect in the Parliament attack case, in the following terms: “ Us ghar mein ghus key maaraingey, jis ghar se Afzal niklegey; woh koch nahin palnaye dengey, jis koch se Afzal niklega” (will enter and hit the home from which Afzal would come; will not let the foetus survive in the womb from which Afzal will be born). She went further, urging the Indian jawans: “Get up brave soldiers of the country….Give a roar, and pierce a tricolour into the chest of that Kanhaiya (the former Jawaharlal Nehru University students union president)… (Re: The Wire website, October 7, 2019).

The assonance between the hate speeches of the Sangh Parivar leaders and the CRPF constable – using the same rhetoric – belies the claim of impartiality of our security forces when it comes to domestic protests by dissenters, and also underlines their attitude towards human rights.

Responsibility of the UN and international agencies

In such a situation, it is necessary for the UN to step in – as it had done on similar occasions of civil strife in other parts of security the world. It has to persuade the Indian state to desist from further exacerbating the civil strife in Kashmir (which had been going on for the last several decades – and is likely to increase due to the further alienation of the people in the Valley because of the Modi government’s recent decision to revoke Article 370 ). It has also to persuade the neighbouring state of Pakistan state to desist from provocative statements and actions (like infiltration of terrorists), that inflame such strife in the Valley.

As far as the Indian government is concerned, it cannot kick off the Kashmir problem under the carpet of internal affairs.’ It had always been internationally described as a controversial issue of unresolved aspirations and rights of a people inhabiting a divided territory. Even the UN recognizes it as a disputed territory’ by officially describing the Indian part as Indian-administered Kashmir,’ and the other part as Pakistan-administered Kashmir’ – since it involves two hostile states with a history of wars. Both India and Pakistan are bound by the agreements that the UN had formalized to settle disputes between the two. Any disruption of the status quo – agreed upon by the two states under UN supervision at different stages of the conflicts – threatens to jeopardize regional stability in the sub-continent. Under its Charter, the UN is responsible for both preventing such a catastrophe, and protecting the people of Kashmir from the violation of human rights.

The UN Charter gives the Security Council primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security. In fulfilling the responsibility, the Council can introduce operations for establishing peace. Chapter VII of the Charter authorizes the UN to deploy peace operations in `volatile post-conflict’ situations where the “ state is unable to maintain security and public order”. Explaining the mandate of such missions, the UN Security Council in its resolution 1674, in 2006, said that it included “(i) the protection of civilians… (ii) facilitation of the provision of humanitarian assistance…(iii) protection of citizens is given priority in decisions about the use of available capacity and resources, including information and intelligence resources…”

On each of the above counts, Kashmir today needs the deployment of UN peace operations in a situation where the Indian state has been “ unable to maintain security and public order.”

UN presence in Kashmir

It is not that UN had never intervened in what India calls its internal affairs’ today. The United Nations Military Observer Group (UNMOG) was set up for both India and Pakistan in January, 1949, its members deployed in its respective headquarters in the Indian-administered Kashmir’, and the `Pakistan- administered Kashmir’. Its mandate was to conduct field trips and area recce along the Line of Official Control (that divides the two parts of Kashmir) to investigate into allegations of ceasefire violations by either of the two states, and then to submit its findings to the UN Secretary General.

In complete violation of this UN mandate, the Modi-led BJP government in 2014 asked the UNMOG, based in Srinagar to wind up its work, and in 2017 its External Affairs Ministry reiterated that it had no mandate to monitor the situation in Kashmir. Curiously enough, the Pakistan government continues to host the UNMOG on its territory without curbing its activities. According to the then UN Secretary General’s 1949 decision to deploy the UNMOG in Kashmir, its mandate could only be terminated by the UN Security Council.

For taking a unilateral decision to curb the role of the UNMOG, the Indian government should have been summoned and reprimanded by the UN much earlier. But the UN can still make amends for its past acts of negligence by being pro-active in Kashmir today by deploying its Peace-Keeping forces.

Need for UN Peace-keeping Operations in Kashmir

As explained earlier, the Indian government has not been able to meet the standards required according to the mandate of UN peace-keeping to protect the rights of citizens of the part of Kashmir that it administers – as evident from the successive damning reports by both Indian and international human rights groups, and more importantly by UN investigative reports that highlighted acts of violation of human rights.

In such a situation, the UN is entitled to intervene in a territory of its member state where its people are devastated by civil conflicts. In such circumstances, the UN had in the past, deployed its peace-keeping forces in strife-ridden states like Cyprus, Afghanistan, Golan Heights, Congo and many other states.

Under the UN mandate of peace-keeping, “Peace-enforcement involves the application, with the authorization of the Security Council, of a range of coercive measures, including the use of military force….Such actions are authorized to restore international peace and security in situations where the Security Council has determined the existence of a threat to peace, or act of aggression..” (Re: United Nations Peace Keeping Operations: Principles and Guidelines. 2008)

We are still awaiting the final decision of the UN Security Council on the dispute over Kashmir. But it is highly recommended that the territory is put under the UN peace-keeping forces, which are authorized to use “coercive measures,” that will thankfully oust the much maligned Indian security forces from the Valley, and replace them with a UN-monitored international peace-keeping forces.

Sumanta Banerjee is a political and civil rights activist and social scientist. Email: banerjee.sumban@gmail.com

11 October 2019

Source: countercurrents.org