Niloofar Qureshi

UK and the UNHRC Report on Kashmir

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Discussion on the first ever UNHRC report on Kashmir in the British parliament may have given Hurriyat the hope that the UK will finally intervene on this issue. And by saying “we encourage all states, including India and Pakistan, to respond positively to the request by the UN in this case, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to a right to visit,” Britain’s Minister of State for Commonwealth and United Nations Lord Tariq Ahmad signaled his government’s endorsement of this report. Perhaps that’s why Geelani sahib remarked that “UK should play a key role and share responsibility for amicable resolution of (the) vexed Kashmir issue.” The Hurriyat (G) chairman also reminded London that “United Kingdom owes a responsibility and is morally bound to play its impressive role for peaceful resolution of Kashmir issue.”

However, even though Lord Ahmad’s statement does appear to be in the Hurriyat’s favour but London’s past record on the Kashmir issue hasn’t been very encouraging. And this was once again proved when Lord Swaraj Paul objected to this report being tabled in the UK parliament since both India and Pakistan were “active members” of the United Nations. In his response, Lord Ahmad clarified that the UK government’s stand is that it is “primarily for India and Pakistan to resolve” the Kashmir issue remains unchanged. Thus, for all practical purposes the UNHRC Kashmir report debate in British parliament turned out to be a non event!

The only worthwhile take away from this debate was the British government’s suggestion that India and Pakistan should “respond positively” to the UNHRC Commissioner’s request for a right to visit parts of J&K under their respective control. However, with Islamabad saying that it would only allow UNHRC teams to visit Pakistan administered Kashmir (PaK) if New Delhi agrees to do the same in Indian administered Kashmir (IaK), the executive part of UNHRC report has become non-operative. Everyone knows that India will never permit any UNHRC team to visit IaK and this is the reason why many experts felt that Islamabad would allow unconditional access to UNHRC teams visiting PaK. This would diplomatically embarrass New Delhi and force it to follow Pakistan’s example. Thus, Islamabad’s conditional offer for UNHRC teams to visit PaK is rather perplexing.

In a way Geelani sahib may be right in holding the UK morally responsible for the Kashmir crisis. However, if he expects that by saying this Government of UK would be so overwhelmed by guilt and remorse that London would change its stand that Kashmir is “a bilateral issue between India and Pakistan to address,” then he will surely be disappointed. And neither will heaping praises on the British government for its “keen interest” in this matter or lauding UK’s “great role in creating a conducive atmosphere for peaceful resolution of the Kashmir issue” help in changing UK’s perception. Moreover, when London has consistently adopted a non-committal stance on Kashmir by issuing curt statements like it can “neither prescribe a solution to Kashmir nor act as a mediator,” why should we have any expectation of support from the UK?

Despite being snubbed, why do our leaders still keep appealing to the world for help in resolving the Kashmir logjam? How can one ever forget that the UK parliament about which Geelani sahib has talked so highly is the same one in which just four years ago, which during a discussion on the resolution regarding ‘Political and Humanitarian Situation in Kashmir’, outrightly turned down Liberal Democrat MP David Ward’s proposal of providing humanitarian aid to the flood ravaged Kashmiris. The reason given by Britain’s former Minister in charge of Business Engagement with India, Gregory Barker MP was, “Any British insertion will be very unhelpful…India has been the subject of vile terrorist attacks and we stand shoulder to shoulder (with India) on the issue of terrorism.”

How did humanitarian aid get associated with terrorism in Kashmir is difficult to comprehend. Yet this incident merits attention since it illustrates how the international community avoids getting involved in anything suspected of having links to terrorism even if these are unproven. And this is why the ‘armed struggle’ in Kashmir has turned out to be a big liability for the ‘self determination’ movement. Unfortunately, rather than do something to remedy this, our leaders insist on following the paradoxical policy of eulogising the ‘armed struggle’ and concurrently imploring the international community to step-in and help resolving the Kashmir issue in accordance with the UN resolutions.

A word of caution. Overplaying the UNHRC report on Kashmir too needs be curbed because alongwith New Delhi and its security apparatus, it also indicts our freedom fighters and puts Islamabad under the scanner for supporting “armed groups” fighting in Kashmir. This report says, “…since the late 1980s, a variety of armed groups has been actively operating in the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir, and there has been documented evidence of these groups committing a wide range of human rights abuses, including kidnappings and killing of civilians and sexual violence.” The phrase “documented evidence” is a matter of critical concern and those who support ‘armed struggle’ in Kashmir need to take a serious note of this!

Thus, if we want the world to take note of New Delhi’s atrocities and bring perpetrators to book then we should also accept our ‘freedom fighters’ being investigated and if found guilty punished for committing excesses! However, since Geelani sahib believes that “those who pick up arms are better than others (and) they don’t need our certificate as Allah has given them certificate,” it is doubtful if he would ever approve any proposal for investigating ‘freedom fighters’.

Regarding Pakistan, the report has this to say -“Despite the Government of Pakistan’s assertions of denial of any support to these (militant) groups, experts believe that Pakistan’s military continues to support their operations across the Line of Control in Indian-Administered Kashmir…Between January 2016 and April 2018, civil society organisations have accused members of armed groups of numerous attacks against civilians, off-duty police personnel and army personnel on leave, including the killing of 16 to 20 civilians.”

To make matters worse for Islamabad, the report mentions that “residents of AJK (PaK) and G-B (Gilgit Baltistan) do not enjoy all the rights and protections available to those under the Pakistan Constitution.” It also mentions how “The interim constitution of AJK has placed several restrictions on anyone criticising AJK’s accession to Pakistan, in contravention to international standards on the rights to freedoms of expression and opinion, assembly and association. It goes on to highlight “institutional discrimination” in PaK citing specific examples of Ahmadiyyas being considered “non Muslims” and imposition of blasphemy laws on its citizens.

We may think that the UNHRC report on Kashmir will severely embarrass New Delhi and compel it to consider implementing UN resolutions on Kashmir. However, Islamabad’s refusal to give UNHRC investigators unconditional access into PaK has only helped New Delhi and it’s strange that our leaders haven’t taken up this issue with Islamabad. Next, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) that has prepared this report has compromised its own credibility by referring to UN designated terrorist groups like the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) and Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) as “armed groups.” Thus, in the end the UNHRC report on Human Rights violations in Kashmir is just another sheaf of papers that can only be used for debates and nothing more!

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