By Jawed Naqvi
In our world of mealy-mouthed morality, diplomatic subterfuge and spurious ideological grandstanding go together. A Sinhalese minister is applauded for going on a Gandhi-like fast to stop a UN team from probing the alleged massacre of Tamil civilians by Sri Lankan troops.
If Mr Krishna doesn’t trust the angry petitions filed by fellow Indians to his government, then he might consider visiting Srinagar on a fact-finding tour before embarking on a globally watched trip to Islamabad. – Photo by AP.
A peace flotilla is attacked by Israeli commandos and the blame is put on its unarmed occupants who are not only killed but are painted by the global media as agent provocateurs. A gaggle of schoolchildren are slaughtered in Kashmir by paramilitary forces roaming their homeland and get described as cohorts of Pakistani terrorists. Champions of peaceful struggles please note.
Closer to our purposes, a front-page blurb about this week’s visit to Islamabad by Indian Foreign Minister S.M. Krishna requires urgent attention. After declaring that India and Pakistan were set to resume their “dialogue process” on Thursday, The Sunday Express clarified that Mr Krishna’s talks with Pakistan’s Shah Mahmood Qureshi would “start on a bunch of issues barring Kashmir (and) Siachen”. It said the Indian government had briefed its parliament panel on the matter.
With the Kashmir Valley in turmoil as seldom seen before, could there be anything more ostrich-like than to hold any talks that, as implied by the Express report, would at best describe the water when people are drowning in it? Citing the foreign secretary’s briefing to the parliament panel (headed incidentally by a BJP hawk) the Express listed proposals ranging from a commerce secretary-level meeting to cross-LOC trade with issues such as Sir Creek, culture and water resources thrown in for good effect. Mercifully the two guilty parties would also cover (and hopefully resolve) the nasty matter of innocent visa transgressors and fishermen who so often rot in their jails.
The good news is that India has not blamed Pakistan for the mess in the Valley although it has accused groups like Jamaatud Dawa for fomenting violence. On the other hand private opinion-makers have claimed that Islamabad was generating the unrest so as to mount pressure on New Delhi to come prepared to Islamabad to discuss the Kashmir dispute. Nothing is more nauseating and cynical than states and governments, be it India or Pakistan, inciting violence to get even with their rivals, all the more so if it leads to the unconscionable death of schoolgoing children.
There is of course the hope that given their strategic nature the issues of Kashmir and Siachen are taken up at a higher level, possibly in the so-called shepherding the interlocutors along. If this is to be the case the fact that the talks are or will be under way needs to be shared with the people on both sides, not the least with the Kashmiris so that they are sanguine that a serious initiative is on to address the cause of their suffering.
While India and Pakistan engage in diplomatic jostling to appear better than they are to the rest of the worried world, they go on tormenting Kashmir to score points in what can be described as their domestic league matches. The young chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir is quite possibly the most articulate politician of his generation albeit on the wrong side of the ideological fence. He has been made to eat crow by his rivals in the valley and worse by his allies in Delhi.
Omar Abdullah first helplessly watched the Central Reserve Police Force (whose training unlike the Border Security Force is not to shoot to kill) firing recklessly at crowds and then he called in the army whose job is to use maximum force with no hesitation whatsoever to kill. That the army has succeeded in curbing the angry crowds without further bloodletting so far is a tribute to the state terror reigning in its most naked form in Kashmir. Sweeping press censorship is one of its conduits.
And yet in an essential way India has an indomitably humane spirit which soars far above than the shenanigans of the small-hearted men and women who rule it. In a spontaneous burgeoning that engaged ideologues from virtually every political and intellectual corner there have come up a spate of strongly worded missives to the government, to relevant UN rapporteurs and human rights bodies asking them to stop the blood-letting in Kashmir forthwith and to resolve the issues that have alienated its people beyond the ken of easy remedies.
One of the petitions involving Indian signatories and others called upon the UN, “which has a long association with the Kashmir issue”, to press the Indian government to:”End its militarised governance of Kashmir, and withdraw army from populated areas; Revoke the draconian Armed Forces Special Power Act (AFSPA), which gives Indian troops immunity from civil legal action and promotes HR violations; End oppression of Kashmiri people, release political prisoners and young boys from jails, and lift the overwhelming security apparatus from Kashmir; Initiate meaningful plans to democratically resolve the issue, and include Kashmiris as the primary party to such a process.”
A separate petition to the Indian government, Jammu and Kashmir chief minister, the National Human Rights Commission and others pressed them to: “Take steps to put an immediate end to the violence perpetrated by the security forces during the last three weeks; Refrain from attacking civilian infrastructure, including hospitals and ambulances; Ensure that the security forces respect the principle of proportionality in framing and executing their objectives while responding to the civilian protests; Initiate independent and impartial investigations into the killings of peaceful protesters, several of whom were children; Initiate inquiry into instances of attacks on ambulance services; Ensure that the inquiry is conducted in a time-bound manner and the report of the inquiry is made public; Initiate legal and punitive action against persons who are found responsible for the killings of civilians; Establish an independent inquiry commission to investigate the allegations of serious human rights violations, including enforced disappearances, killings, torture, rape and sexual violence since 1989; Invite and permit the relevant UN Rapporteurs, UN Special Representatives and members of the UN Working Group on Enforced Disappearance to investigate the allegations of human rights abuses in the region; Initiate a general debate involving members of the Kashmiri civil society and others on impunity and AFSPA (Armed Forces Special Powers Act), and possible mechanisms to respond to the prevailing impunity.”A third petition in which I was heartened to see at least one name of a BJP officer bearer and some associated with Jamaat I Islami and other Muslim outfits, had this to say:
“The Prime Minister’s recent visit to the Valley only underlined the visionless policy of protecting the status quo at any cost. With all emphasis at our command, we urge the central government to at once send the army back to the barracks and out of all inhabited areas in the Valley, release all arrested political leaders, activists and protesters, repeal the black AFPSA which has allowed the army to kill with impunity, and urgently start a real dialogue with both the stakeholders in the Valley as well as with Pakistan to solve this vexed issue once and for all. We believe the situation in Kashmir demands a political, not a military, solution. We hope the (current government) will not leave this issue burning for another generation to solve it.”
It makes little sense under the circumstances for Mr Krishna to not discuss the raging problem in Kashmir with Pakistan. If he doesn’t trust the angry petitions filed by fellow Indians to his government, then he might consider visiting Srinagar on a fact-finding tour before embarking on a globally watched trip to Islamabad.