As DMK pulls out of the UPA-II for allowing a lenient resolution at UNHRC against Colombo over the Tamil massacre, the move was keenly watched in Srinagar. RS Gull reports that a Pakistani resolution over Kashmir against Delhi fell flat in 1994 as India exhibited its rare diplomatic muscle.
After the influential Tamil diaspora highlighted the crimes that Sri Lankan army committed during its 30 years of battle – the most inhuman was the capture and killing of LTTE chief Prabakaran’s child son, US-sponsored a resolution in United Nations against Colombo for violation of human rights while dealing with Tamil tigers in the northern edge of the country. DMK wanted Delhi to use its influence and make it harsh and firm, but it was watered down before the UNHRC passed it on March 21.
Post passage, Congress as well as BJP are making demands that Sri Lanka must reduce the army presence from Tamil dominated civilian areas and empower local police, restore civilian infrastructure to the people, start devolution of powers and punish the guilty. India has been an actor in the Sri Lankan crisis. It initially trained LTTE and later sent its army to Sri Lanka as India Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) in 1987 and disengaged in 1990.
“DMK respected the sentiments of their people on the issue of human rights abuses against Tamils in Sri Lanka and withdrew support to the UPA government”, Kashmir’s peacenik cleric, Mirwaiz Umer Farooq, stated from his fortified mansion where he is under house arrest. “NC and PDP as always chose to barter the sentiments of Kashmiris without an iota of shame.” He said Mufti Sayeed, as Home Minister, appointed Jagmohan and permitted him to resort to massacres and Abdullah’s set up Special Operations Group (SOG) to conduct extra-judicial murders and abductions in Kashmir.
Perhaps Mirwaiz does not remember the year 1994 when he was too young in politics and Delhi successfully deflated the sting out of a Pakistani resolution that was aimed at sending a fact-finding commission of the United Nations Human Rights Commission (UNHRC) to study the state of human rights in Kashmir. Pakistan withdrew it at the last moment as all its allies backed out. The resolution was moved after Islamabad consulted most of its friends in the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) but its failure was one of the major shocks to the Pakistan government then led by Benazir Bhuttoo.
OIC had decided by consensus in September 1992 to send a fact-finding mission to Kashmir and it started materializing on Feb 5, 1993 when the foreign office was alarmed over OIC members, seeking visas for its fact-finding mission.
But Congress disagrees that its demand at the UNHRC for withdrawal of security forces from Tamil civilian areas has any parity with similar demands being made from Kashmir or North East. “These (Kashmir and North East) are issues of internal security due to issues of terrorism or militant activities by certain groups sponsored by both international forces as well as organizations placed outside India whereas what is happening in Sri Lanka is not really connected with that,” Congress spokesman, Sandeep Dikshit was quoted as saying. They do not see any similarity between the resolution they were supporting in 2013 or opposing the one in 1994, even though both were about human rights – the latter about Kashmir which is stated integral part of India and the former about a neighbour – Sri Lanka.
Regardless of the obvious objectives and compulsions for her two actions separated nearly by two decades of time, Kashmir’s contemporary history shall always remain interested about how Delhi managed a victory at Geneva against all odds. The failed resolution was the first and so far the last intervention of any consequence at any UN-affiliate on Kashmir. That was perhaps why India Today reported the success was huge: “..a moment comparable to the stunning success of Operation Black Thunder in Punjab or the deft defusing of the Hazratbal crisis in Srinagar..”
In the overwhelming situation that emerged in Kashmir after 1990s, Islamabad was planning a resolution for many years. It drafted, amended and threatened to launch it against Delhi in UN General Assembly. But it always lacked numbers. Finally, Islamabad took its allies into confidence within the OIC and tabled the four point resolution (L-40 under agenda item 12) on February 25, 1994.
Coming events cast the shadows in anticipation – it had no co-sponsor. The main focus of the resolution was at sending a fact finding commission to Kashmir that would report to the UN General Assembly. The two countries had a fairly good track record of fighting each other in UNGA and other UN-affiliate forums. In 1993, the two countries devoured 1.36 hours in clashes over Kashmir in UNHRC’s three-week yearly meeting. Next year, it was more than double.
As the going got tough, the then Prime Minister PV Narasimaha Rao took the charge himself. He personally flew from Davos to Germany in February itself. His second action was to pick up the team that would actually fly to Geneva and start undoing Pakistani efforts. In an exceptionally impressive decision, he picked up Atal Behari Vajpayee, the BJP man who was the opposition leader, as head of the team.
Danesh Singh was then Foreign Affairs Minister and Salman Khursheed his next in command. Rao choose Salman with NC leader Dr Farooq Abdullah. Their qualification was that both were Muslims and aggressive on issues.
Delhi called as many as six ambassadors from different countries who had their influence within OIC member countries and other powerful Western nations. That was unprecedented. At one point of time, there was so massive a footfall from India and Pakistan in the cafeteria that there was no room left for others. Its management jokingly stated that if Kashmir continues to dominate the scene for sometime more, they may consider starting a curry counter!
Pakistani diplomats had dubbed Salman Khursheed “a rented Muslim” and it forced him to work more to exhibit that he is a stakeholder. But the focus was on Dr Farooq. Reports of that era suggest that he would tell everybody how playing golf is great in Kashmir and how beautiful the place is. But his most impressive performance was when he challenged everybody from the other side to prove they are Kashmiri by speaking with him in Kashmiri language! Almost everybody failed.
It changed the situation. Indonesia and Libya that were supportive of the resolution from day one, withdrew their support to the idea on March 7, on the eve of voting. Syria was initially supportive but later fled saying it would reconsider the draft if it is watered down. On the final day of March 9, Iran told the house that vote be deferred as consultations would start. Soon after, Pakistan declared it was ditched by Iran.
At the same time, a vote was going on against China and in a sharp tactical move, a junior Indian official voted in favour of Beijing. The game was over. To keep Beijing in good humour, Delhi took one huge tactical decision. George Fernandes had planned a huge international seminar on Tibet issue. Delhi ensured it does not happen and rejected visa applications of all the dignitaries flying from abroad. It was momentary loss of face but it worked very well at such a crucial juncture.
Pakistan lost China and Iran, and by 5 pm Pakistan announced withdrawal of its resolution.
But a part of the game was played outside Geneva. Prior to the high-voltage battle in Geneva, Rao had flown his Foreign Minister to Iran. Singh, since he was not doing well, was admitted to a hospital. He was flown in a charter for an unscheduled visit that even surprised Iran whose foreign minister threw everything around and drove to Tehran airport and received Singh. He just went with one brief letter of Rao to Iran President, Ali Akbar Hashmi Rafsanjani.
During his day long visit, Dinesh Singh did not interact with the Iranian leaders only. He also had detailed interaction with Chinese foreign minister, Aian Qichen, who was in Tehran. Later that night, Singh flew back and drove straightway to his hospital bed.
Rao was not all alone. After being assigned an issue of national interest, Vajpayee did his bit. He roped in Hindujas, the powerful Indian business family in UK. They are a highly influential family in Iran. The role of the family in neutralizing Tehran has been unfairly written. They worked in Tehran and later flew to Geneva where they played host to a banquet where the negotiations with Iran were conducted.
Iran actually led the efforts that ended up in Pakistan’s defeat. Rao had talked at length with Iran Foreign Minister, Ali Akbar Vilayati, his friend, and earlier helped him in managing certain critical requirements even against the dictates of US.
Delhi was keen to get Rafsanjani on an official visit which materialized in April 1995. Prior to his arrival, Rafsanjani talked in detail with The Hindu. “I believe the important issue is Kashmir and the status quo that it is not admissible and the problem should be tackled in a manner that it will be to the satisfaction of the people, so that the countries do not confront one another in an encounter without any reason,” the Iran President said. “I do believe that there are ways of reaching some sort of solution but, considering the hotness of the issue, it is difficult to approach this issue (now).”
Rafsanjani was clear that Kashmir cannot be isolated from the larger Muslim population that lives in India. “It is completely right (more Muslims live in India than Pakistan) and if any action is to be taken, the interest of the Indian Muslims, who are also in minority, should be taken into consideration. They are in the larger number and if we want to express any opinion or take any action or enter into any mediatory action, we should take these aspects fully into account.” He was correct in saying that Iran has “good relations” with all the sides on this issue of Kashmir – India, Pakistan as well as in Kashmir. “We think we can use this exceptional position of ours when we see the conditions appropriate so that our actions would not be wasted but rather be effective,” he asserted. During his Delhi sojourn, he called for tri-partite talks.
As the Indian team flew to Delhi, almost everybody was at the airport to receive them. “For a greater nation like us, there was a certain humiliation involved in having to go around begging for votes on a human rights issue,” the visionary Vajpayee stated at that very moment, “Let us now use this reprieve to clean up our act in Kashmir or there will be a Geneva every few months.”
Interestingly, Pakistan claimed victory despite the fact that its Kashmir Committee split after the debacle! It said it has internationalized Kashmir again. The claim was correct to a level because after Geneva, there was visible openness in Delhi to permit foreign envoys to visit Kashmir.
In May 1995, India permitted UNHRC’s Jose Ayala Lasso to visit Kashmir. Regardless of its impact, diplomats started arriving in hoards. It started with the arrival of 10 ambassadors jointly making Delhi slightly nervous that the entire game would go waste if Kashmiri people came out en masse to greet them. That somehow did not happen. Within days ahead of Geneva, Delhi permitted ICRC to work in Kashmir on a limited mandate. It did not hinder when its top officer flew to Srinagar and made a public speech in old Srinagar.
In the subsequent years, India-Pakistan battle in UNHRC would remain a permanent feature. In 1995, it was tourism minister Ghulam Nabi Azad and Finance Minister Dr Manmohan Singh leading the tirade against Pakistan. Interestingly, the year witnessed passage of resolution against “gross violations of human rights by terrorist groups” that India supported along with Afghanistan. Now, the two countries talk less and permit other nations to settle their scores. Kashmir, for all practical reasons, is off the focus now. But history remains indelible.