Kashmiri freedom-fighters dying unsung


By Dr. Asim Hussain

It is really encouraging to see that the Indian atrocities in held Kashmir are gaining a lit bit international attention at last. A British parliamentary delegation, on a visit to Pakistan, has expressed concern over the increasing human rights violations in Indian-occupied Kashmir. Addressing a news conference along with Azad Jammu & Kashmir President Sardar Masood Khan earlier this month, the members of the delegation urged the international community to take notice of the Indian atrocities being inflicted on Kashmiri people in the occupied valley. Member British parliament Andrew Flint said the Kashmir dispute is a human rights issue and urged the world to listen to the voices of the Kashmiris. “I stand with truth. It is the basic right of people to live with freedom and peace. The rest of the world needs to know what is happening in Kashmir,” he said. Wajid Khan, another member of the British parliament and part of the delegation, strongly condemned the human rights violations in occupied Kashmir and said the blood of the Kashmiris is “as valuable as that of anyone living in Britain or any other country”. “We want to listen to the Kashmiris’ voices by going there,” he said. “Kashmiris have to decide about their future themselves.” The delegation said it would request the Indian ambassador back home to allow a fact-finding mission to visit occupied Kashmir. Meanwhile experts say Kashmir is seething and close enough to breaking point that sensible, right-minded Indians are speaking out in alarm against the militarised approach of the government of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi towards India-held Kashmir. From newspapers of repute such as The Hindu and The Indian Express to widely respected retired military officers, independent media outlets and some of India’s most fearless and respected journalists, the criticism of the Indian government is powerful, unequivocal and growing. The harsh tactics of the Indian state have caused unacceptable human rights violations in the disputed territory and may have already triggered a humanitarian crisis. It is particularly telling that even Indian observers who are otherwise reluctant to acknowledge the disputed territory status of Kashmir are uniting in their condemnation of Prime Minister Modi and the Indian security forces. What is particularly troubling is that at every stage of the year-old protests by the Kashmiri people, the state of India has responded in a manner almost deliberately designed to draw more protests and cause more unrest. The killing of Burhan Wani itself was an alarming military provocation nearly 10 months ago and, now, with the widely condemned use of Farooq Ahmad Dar as a human shield against unarmed protesters, the Indian security forces appear to be emulating Israeli tactics against the Palestinians. Sensibly, and in a policy that must continue to hold, Pakistan has not tried to intervene inside IHK on behalf of the distressed people there. Not even the most ardent of critics of Pakistan in India have suggested that the current unacceptable state of affairs in IHK has been instigated or sustained by Pakistan. Rightly, Pakistan has adhered to a policy of drawing international attention to the repression in IHK and speaking up on behalf of the people of Kashmir. It is the right thing to do from a people-centric perspective too: even the possibility of direct Pakistani involvement in IHK would enable state of India to justify its brutal tactics and, perhaps, turn to even greater violence. There is no guarantee that conscientious voices in India will prevail soon over a hard-line government. But Prime Minister Modi and his civilian and military advisers must surely recognise that the future of IHK will not be settled through the barrel of a gun. India continues to commit worst atrocities against the unarmed protesters in occupied Kashmir with impunity secure in the knowledge that the world’s human rights champions will keep looking the other way. Since last July, when the killing of a young resistance leader, Burhan Wani, by the Indian security forces triggered widespread uprising, New Delhi has unleashed a new reign of terror in the valley. Over a hundred Kashmiri youth protesting against Indian occupation with merely stone throwing have been killed and scores of others blinded by pellet gunfire. Thousands have been arrested and subjected to extreme torture, and countless homes demolished amidst unending curfews and a media clamp-down. In one incident the Indian army not only used a Kashmiri as a human shield but later also unashamedly defended that callous act. Conscientious people within India itself have been expressing dismay over these brutalities. Yet aggression is only increasing. The Foreign Office spokesman in Islamabad has now stated that India is reportedly using chemical ammunition against civilians in held Kashmir. Bodies charred beyond recognitions discovered from the debris of five houses destroyed by the Indian forces at Bahmnoo and Kakpora in Pulwama and in several other places had tell-tale signs of the presence of some chemical agent in the ammunition employed in these attacks. The spokesman was confident enough of the veracity of his information to demand that the international community, particularly relevant organisations, initiate an investigation into these reports. Unfortunately, however, Western powers, very vocal in condemning human rights violations in their rival countries, have maintained silence in the case of Kashmir even as the UN Human Rights Council chief, Zeid Raad al-Hussein, has been expressing deep concern over the rights situation in Kashmir, calling for the establishment of an independent, impartial international commission to assess the situation. The remarks he made last September before the Council are worth recalling here: “Human rights violations,” he had averred, “will not disappear if a government blocks access to international observers and then invests in a public relations campaign to offset any unwanted publicity. On the contrary, effort to duck or refuse legitimate scrutiny raises an obvious question: what, precisely are you hiding from us?” Sadly, India has been allowed to duck independent scrutiny. Things perhaps can change if Pakistan campaigns hard enough to direct the international community’s attention to relentless Indian oppression. So far aside from Turkey, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei – apparently angered over Narendra Modi’s cozying up to Israel – has come out to voice strong support for the Kashmiri people. Indeed, the OIC has consistently been backing the Kashmir cause. But that is of little help. The Arab states like Saudi Arabia and the UAE, with which Pakistan has a special relationship and who host more Indian migrant workers and services professionals than Pakistanis, ought to step forward and take a clear stand on the issue in this hour of need. As per available reports, during the last one year alone, over a hundred Kashmiris have been killed; 19,000 wounded, many with life threatening injuries; hundreds either completely or partially blinded by pellet gunfire; thousands of women molested; and 18,000 people arrested whose fate is unknown. Meanwhile, members of minority communities – Muslims, Christians and Dalits – are being lynched by Hindutva proponents for trading or consuming beef, even on suspicion of transporting cows – considered holy by many Hindus – for slaughter. These are all well recorded facts and a subject of deep concern by international rights organisations and sane elements within India itself. Yet there is no let up. It is worth recalling that no less a person than the UN Human Rights Council chief, Zeid Raad al-Hussein, has been urging the establishment of an independent, impartial international commission to assess the rights situation in occupied Kashmir, albeit unsuccessfully. He could only express his disappoint over failure to do anything saying, “human rights violations will not disappear if a government blocks access to international observers and then invests in a public relations campaign to offset any unwanted publicity. On the contrary, effort to duck or refuse legitimate scrutiny raises an obvious question: what, precisely are you hiding from us?” Likewise, on the other issue earlier this year, the US government’s own Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) had issued a damning report, noting that hate crimes against religious minorities, their social boycott, and forced conversions had escalated since 2014 – that is when the country’s Hindu extremist Prime Minister Narendra Modi came to power. Religious tolerance, said the report, had deteriorated and religious freedom violations increased in some areas of India, recommending that the US government put the issue at the heart of trade and diplomatic interactions with India. That of course was a futile suggestion. For at the heart of the US and other Western nations’ policy to ignore rights’ violation in Kashmir and hate crimes all across that country are economic and strategic interests. Rights issues are raised only to shame rival powers, not friends. That though should not discourage Pakistan. It must use every international platform, especially various UN forums, to highlight oppression in occupied Kashmir as well as the plight of the minority communities. Pakistan’s Arab friends should also be asked to play a proactive role and use their clout with influential Western countries to stop bloody repression in Kashmir, and to have India rein in its ‘cow protectors’ killing innocent people on mere suspicion of possessing cow beef. India must realise that it cannot continue to suppress the Kashmiri voices through violence. Similarly, if Pakistan is to help Kashmiris get their right of self -determination denied since more than 70 years it needs to highlight the Indian atrocities at all international forums. – The writer is ex-Federal Petrolium Minister and President PPP Karachi Division