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Mainstream, VOL LIV No 41 New Delhi October 1, 2016

Restoration of Democracy and Human Rights — A Pre-Requisite for any Dialogue on Kashmir

Monday 3 October 2016, by Sandeep Pandey

While the Indian security forces were busy tackling the internal protests in Jammu and Kashmir in which over 80 civilians have been killed since July 9, 2016, the most recent victim being a 11-year-old Nasir Shafiq Qazi who died of pellet injuries, a surprise militant attack has taken place from across the border killing 18 Indian soldiers in the biggest such incident so far in history. Clearly, things are going out of the hands of the government at the Centre whose problem is that after the making of nuclear weapons by both India and Pakistan, it cannot engage in a full-fledged war with Pakistan, howsoever provocative the Pakistani infringement might be.

India is also losing international support by recently denying access to the United Nations Human Rights Council in J&K. The question that will be asked is: if the Indian claim about Pakistan instigating violence in Kashmir is true, then why doesn’t the Indian Government let the UNHRC unravel this truth by conducting an enquiry there? The world will not miss the contradiction that a democratic India is preventing the UNHRC from visiting J&K whereas a not-so-democratic Pakistan is letting it have access to Pakistan Occupied Kashmir. What is India afraid of? Is the difference between Indian and Pakistani Kashmirs the use of pellet guns by Indian forces against the recent round of protests by the people? India will probably face more flak for preventing the visit of a UN team rather than the human rights violations that its security forces are responsible for.

The Indian problem is compounded because of its inability to conclusively prove that the terrorist attacks from the across the border, whether it was Mumbai in 2008, Pathankot in 2016 and now Uri, are actually sponsored by Pakistan because Pakistan denies its role in any of these. On the contrary it challenges India to provide evidence of its involvement. On the other hand the human rights violations in Kashmir, especially because of the unrestrained powers the Army enjoys under the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, are something that cannot be hidden.

India has recently queered the pitch in its relationship with Pakistan when Narendra Modi talked about insurgency in Balochistan, Gilgit, Baltistan and PoK during his Independence Day speech. Even though Pakistan blames it for doing this in order to divert attention from the human rights violations in Indian Kashmir, the reality is that the suffering of the people in J&K doesn’t reduce by India raising the stakes in such a manner. During the regime of the previous Central governments at least a semblance of democracy was observed in J&K but the present regime in its over-enthusiasm of dealing with the problem in Kashmir with a tough hand, has completely overrun the State Government. It wants to directly control things in Kashmir. It might as well impose Governor’s Rule there. But its approach is clearly failing. It is inviting more violence from inside the Kashmiri society as well as from across the border. Democracy is a direct victim of violence. People of Kashmir are the ultimate sufferers in this.

In response to the Pakistani Prime Minister having decided to send 22 parliamentarians as representatives to as many capitals of the world to intimate the world leaders about the situation of Kashmir and seek their support in the United Nations, the Indian Government has decided to send Rajnath Singh to the US and Russia in a counter-move.

The India-Pakistan relations have been marked by a tit-for-tat policy. Hence it doesn’t come as a surprise that India is following the Pakistani approach to mobilise world opinion.

But if India is genuinely concerned about Kashmir and the Kashmiris, then it would have been better for it to first win over the Kashmiri people before trying to seek support from outside. If India were confident that the Kashmiri people were with it, then it would not have to go around the world to seek support.

The fact is that in spite of offering all kinds of packages to J&K and even to potential immigrants from Pakistan occupied Kashmir and the Home Minister going to Srinagar for a dialogue, the people of Kashmir are not happy with the Indian Government. They don’t feel that the Indian Government is showing sensitivity towards them. For example, while continuing to urge the people to give up violence, there was no let down in violence, what to talk of withdrawing of the by-now-infamous pellet guns by the security forces before the Home Minister went for the dialogue. Does the government actually think that it can continue to use pellet guns on one hand and expect the people to show up for dialogue on the other? Any dialogue in a war-like situation is preceded by a ceasefire.

A lot of Right-wing people are alarmed at the possibility of Kashmir becoming independent of India. For them it is a prestige issue. They ask, ‘Can we just let Kashmir go like that?’ It is a matter which can be decided by the Kashmiris alone. People from outside Kashmir, whether in India or Pakistan, have no territorial rights over Kashmir. This is a feudal mentality often masqueraded as nationalism.

We must introspect. If the Government of India has to keep Kashmir under military rule for so long, it is not a normal situation. The same is true about some areas of the North-East where Iron Sharmila has just ended her decade-and-a-half-long fast to demand repeal of the AFSPA. The government must withdraw the AFSPA first and later the Army itself, if it is serious about normalcy returning to Kashmir. The Army’s role must be limited to the border areas. It is only then that we can think of any dialogue.

Only high-flown statements like ‘fully engaged in normalising the situation as soon as possible’ or that ‘Indian democracy has all that it requires to address legitimate grievances’ will not suffice. This withdrawal of the AFSPA and the Army must be discussed with the people of Kashmir as a confidence-building measure. It would be better if the government were to invest time and energy in this direction. No solution to the problem of Kashmir is conceivable without first restoring conditions of democracy and respect for human rights.

Noted social activist and Magsaysay awardee, Dr Sandeep Pandey was recently sacked this year from the IIT-BHU where he was a Visiting Professor on the charge of being a “Naxalite” engaging in “anti-national” activities. He was elected along with Prof Keshav Jadhav the Vice-President of the Socialist Party (India) at its founding conference at Hyderabad on May 28-29, 2011.