With the rival armies engaged in an eyeball to eyeball confrontation on Kashmir borders, Indian and Pakistani diplomats are busy fighting the ‘war by other means’ between Geneva and New York

UNHRC session in progress in Geneva.

In September, when the Kashmir story migrated to Geneva and New York, following a perennial custom that evolved in last three decades, the rival armies are in an eyeball to eyeball confrontation on Kashmir’s de facto border, the Line of Control (LoC). There are occasional exchanges as well. Wire agency IANS reported on September 6, that Pakistan has moved a brigade size force to a location not more than 30 kms closer to the LoC and placed it in Bagh and Kotli.

Amid massive deployement at the LoC, AjitDoval, India’s National Security Adviser (NSA), who was in Kashmir for initial 10 days of the clampdown since August 5, told reporters in Delhi that some of the 230 militants spotted on the other side of the LoC have actually infiltrated. Similar reports are making rounds on ground too.

With communications blocked, Kashmir survives hundreds of rumours about escalation on Kashmir border on daily basis. The rumour mongering eventually compelled the Lt Gen K J S Dhillon, the Commander of Srinagar based 15 Corps to reveal on September 4, that the army did carry out more than 350 operations in the Gulmarg sector in last 20 days. “There are more than 350 operations, which have been launched around Gulmarg (sector) including some specific information searches inside Gulmarg town,” the General told reporters, insisting, “Otherwise, as you are aware Gulmarg has been terrorism free area because of tourism and other things.”

He said two infiltrators were arrested from the area. At a press conference, early last week, the army showed them in a small video clip.

In his interaction with the media on September 11, state police chief Dilbag Singh said that infiltrators attempted a crossover in Gurez, Keran, Karnah and Gulmarg, besides Poonch and Rajouri. Confirming the build-up on the border and presence of militants at launching pads, the top cop said the police are trying to confirm if any attempt was successful.

The Times of India reported “a sharp rise” in infiltration after the Article 370 became a dead letter. It put the infiltration at 40-45 in August alone. “Of the 11 infiltration attempts in July, 5 were repulsed by border guarding forces even as 6 terrorists managed to cross over,” the newspaper reported on September 12. “However, the month of August has seen 40-50 successful infiltrations, which translates into a 7-8 times increase over July.”

But given the world order, it is the US President who seemingly knows the temperature at the borders of the world especially South Asia. Speaking on September 10, Donald Trump said India-Pakistan tensions were a “little bit less heated right now than it was two weeks ago”. It was in this backdrop that he reiterated: “I am willing to help them.. I get along well with both countries very well. I’m willing to help if they want.”

With his Taliban deal “dead for now”, Trump avoided using any the words – mediate, intervene and arbitrate – that usually trigger anger and anxiety in Delhi.

The fall in temperature between India and Pakistan might have something to do with the ongoing session of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) at Geneva. The two sides are busy in a diplomatic showdown over Kashmir. Given the media on two sides of the Redcliff divide reporting within the respective national policies on Kashmir, it is very difficult to even get closer to understand in whose kitty have the Kashmir brownie points gone, this season.

At the Geneva session, the Kashmir was ‘launched’ by Michelle Bachelet, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, herself. “I am deeply concerned about the impact of recent actions by the Government of India on the human rights of Kashmiris, including restrictions on internet communications and peaceful assembly, and the detention of local political leaders and activists,” Bachelet said in her inaugural statement on September 9, 2019. “While I continue to urge the Governments of India and Pakistan to ensure that human rights are respected and protected, I have appealed particularly to India to ease the current lockdowns or curfews; to ensure people’s access to basic services; and that all due process rights are respected for those who have been detained.”

Imran Khan

The UNHRC, Bachelet said, continues to receive reports on the human rights situation on both sides of the LoC. She asserted: “It is important that the people of Kashmir are consulted and engaged in any decision-making processes that have an impact on their future.”

It was a direct reference to the abrogation of the Article 370 by the BJP dominated Parliament on August 6, that devoured the identity of the Jammu and Kashmir state including its constitution, flag and withdrew protection to its land and demographic composition. The decision also bifurcated the state into two Home Ministry governed Union Territories (UT).

Bachelet’s statement came in the backdrop of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) issuing two scathing reports on Kashmir in last two summers. Referenced and up-to-date, the two reports sought establishing a UN commission of inquiry to investigate “egregious human rights violations”. Delhi rejected the reports, its authors and the findings unlike Islamabad that welcomed it.

On the eve of the start of the 3-week UNHRC session, Pakistan and China issued a joint statement at the conclusion of Chinese Foreign Minister and State Councilor Wang Yi’s Pakistan visit. “The Chinese side reaffirmed its support for Pakistan in safeguarding its sovereignty, territorial integrity, independence, and national dignity, in choosing its development path in light of its national conditions, in working for a better external security environment, and in playing a more constructive role in regional and international issues,” the joint statement said.

“We reject the reference to Jammu and Kashmir in the joint statement issued by China and Pakistan after the recent visit of the Chinese Foreign Minister,” MEA spokesperson Raveesh Kumar said, a day later. “Jammu and Kashmir is an integral part of India.”

Speaking to the UNHRC session, Pakistan’s Foreign Minister, Shah MahmoodQureshi accused India of turning Kashmir “into the largest prison on this planet,” according to American wire agency, the Associated Press. “I shudder to mention the word ‘genocide’ here, but I must,” he was quoted saying. “Once the curfew is lifted, the reality comes out; the world will wake up to the catastrophe that is underway right now.”

Talking about the possibility of an accidental war, Qureshi accused India of “acting irresponsibly” and “being belligerent”. “And if there is a false-flag operation, which we fear, and they use it as a pretext and carry out some misadventure against Pakistan, we will respond,” he insisted. Unlike Pakistan, Qureshi said, India rejected Trump’s mediation offer saying things will be resolved bilaterally. “They cannot be resolved. That cannot be resolved bilaterally.” Qureshi demanded a UNHRC inquiry into the state of human rights situation in Kashmir, halt in use of pellet guns, lifting of curfew, unblocking communication gag, and release of political prisoners in, what Delhi media pointed out, “Indian state”.

That day, Pakistan made four statements on Kashmir, one by Qureshi and the rest were delivered by Pakistan PM’s special envoy and former foreign secretary TehminaJanjua on behalf of the Organisation of Islamic Conference and other countries, according to the Wire website.

Qureshi, according to media reports neither called for a resolution nor a debate on Kashmir. India’s diplomatic sources told reporters that the demand requires a majority support from 47 members of the Council.

Avoiding mentioning Pakistan, India’s envoy, Foreign Affairs Vice Minister Vijay Thakur Singh, termed Qureshi’s statement “a running commentary with offensive rhetoric, of false allegations and concocted charges against my country.”

Accusing Pakistan of conducting “cross-border terrorism as a form of alternate diplomacy”, she insisted: “The world is aware that this fabricated narrative comes from the epicentre of global terrorism, where ringleaders are sheltered for years.”

“India’s national statement was delivered by MEA secretary (east) Vijay Thakur Singh, while the response to the Pakistani remarks was read out by the first secretary posted at the Indian permanent mission in Geneva, Vimarsh Aryan,” according to the Wire website. “The official Indian statement was a reaction to the United Nations high commissioner for human rights Michelle Bachelet on Monday.”

India’s statement asserted its status of being world’s largest democracy with “unflinching” belief in a secular polity where “independent judiciary, free media, vibrant civil society and the impartial human rights institutions provide an effective framework for [the] protection of human rights of all sections of society.”

On the situation in Kashmir and the Article 370 abrogation, the statement read by Singh had three direct paragraphs:

“The recent legislative measures taken by India within the framework of its Constitution will ensure that these progressive measures will also be fully applicable to our citizens in Jammu & Kashmir and Ladakh. As a result, there will be an end to gender discrimination, including on property rights and local bodies representation. There will be better protection of juvenile rights and laws against domestic violence. The rights to education, information and work will now be applicable.

Longstanding discrimination against refugees and under privileged sections will end. These decisions were taken by our Parliament after a full debate that was televised and enjoyed widespread support. We wish to reiterate that this sovereign decision, like other legislations passed by Parliament, is entirely internal to India. No country can accept interference in its internal affairs, certainly not India.

Despite challenging circumstances, Jammu and Kashmir’s Civil Administration is ensuring basic services, essential supplies, normal functioning of institutions, mobility and nearly full connectivity. Democratic processes have been initiated. Restrictions are being eased continuously. Temporary preventive and precautionary measures were necessitated to ensure safety and security of our citizens in the face of credible threats of cross-border terrorism.”

In a separate reply to the Pakistani statement, Indian diplomat Vimarsh Aryan said that Pakistan had peddled “blatant misrepresentation of facts and false narrative” and was an ill-disguised effort to advance its territorial ambitions. “We reject this propaganda.”

Interestingly, Vimarsh is from Jammu and Kashmir. He has been a Regional passport Officer at Jammu and private secretary to former minister of state for external affairs VK Singh. Schooled at the Sainik School Nagrota, Aryan – a resident of Kishtwar, belongs to IFS 2011 batch. He has done his mechanical engineering degree from the National Institute of Technology in Srinagar and served Jammu and Kashmir government before joining the IFS. “The Arabic speaker’s first posting was Jordan,” according to Mint. He is the first secretary at the Indian permanent mission in Geneva.

The squabbling will continue at the UNHRC session (September 9-27) that has two more weeks to go. It will be clear on the conclusion of the session whether it is going to recommend anything beyond what it has already said – in its two reports and a number of statements that its chief has made. Delhi has already rejected the reports of the Council and indicated it will not facilitate the Council to visit Jammu and Kashmir.

Right now, Delhi says Pakistan lacked support at the Council. Media suggests that it had worked round the clock to seek support from 47 members of the Council. Pakistan Prime Minister, however, is thanking 58 countries “that joined Pakistan in Human Rights Council on 10 Sept.”

But the diplomatic wars will move beyond Switzerland. By the end of this month, the Prime Ministers of India and Pakistan would be flying to New York to make speeches to the UN General assembly. NarendraModi is slated to speak on September 27, and would be followed by his counterpart, Imran Khan’s speech. By all means, Kashmir will dominate Khan’s speech.

In anticipation of the speeches by the two South Asian rivals, Kashmir is already making news. UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres’s spokesman has said that the top peacemaker continues to be in touch with both the countries. “His message to all of them has been the same, both publicly and privately, that he remains very concerned about any potential escalation between India and Pakistan over the situation,” the spokesman was quoted saying. “He appeals to both sides to deal with the issue through dialogue. And, as was said by the High Commissioner for Human Rights, recently, the situation in Kashmir can only be solved with the full respect of human rights.”

PM Narendra Mdoi
Narendra Mdoi

Reports appearing in the media suggest that both countries have working overtimes to shore the support of member countries for their Kashmir stand. Delhi has said that it has mobilised the support from as many as 47 countries by briefing them at various levels over the interventions in Kashmir. The main focus of Delhi’s policy is that its interventions are purely internal affairs as the abrogation of Article 370 and bifurcating the state into two Union Territories has not changed the map of India.

Pakistan’s stand is in complete reversal of what Delhi believes. Islamabad says that unless Kashmir is addressed, the possibility of peace in the region is impossible.

Though the two neighbours have a history of resorting to high pitch statements on Kashmir in the world forums, the only disadvantage for Delhi, this time, is that it lacks a Kashmir voice to supplement its assertions on ground. Most of the mainstream political workers including three former Chief Ministers are either under house arrest or in formal detention. These include Dr Farooq Abdullah who was part of the Vajpayee led team in UNHRC in 1995, a session in which India barely escaped a punitive resolution. The detained include Omar Abdullah, who was termed the poster boy of External Affairs Ministry during Vajpayee’s era.


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