Over To Geneva

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After six fortnights, nearly 90 coffins and over 13k injured, neither of the stakeholders has mellowed down. Separatists are unrelenting; the governments in Delhi, Srinagar and Islamabad are unwilling to compromise their stated positions. As India and Pakistan are confronting each other in Geneva, weeks after UNHRC publicly exhibiting its desperation to visit Kashmir, and days after Uri incidents, Bilal Handoo reports the limitations of the situation in the backdrop of earlier similar exercises

Sister of 11-year-old boy from Theed mourning over the loss. (Photo: Bilal Bahadur/KL)

Sister of 11-year-old boy from Theed mourning over the loss. (Photo: Bilal Bahadur/KL)

Those were the days when every soldier in Kashmir was supposed to carry a laminated card in his pocket containing “Ten Commandments” on human rights issued by army chief general BC Joshi. Even then, as poet Agha Shahid Ali wrote about the period, “Srinagar hunches like a wild cat; lonely sentries, wretched in bunkers on the city’s bridges, far from their homes in the plains, licenced to kill…” In this backdrop, Pakistan was taking India’s “severe” human rights violations in Kashmir to United Nations in early 1994.

Delhi tried countering the move, pitching all solutions within framework of India’s “pluralistic” democracy. It accused Islamabad of sponsoring “terrorism” in Kashmir. “It was a complete climate of distrust,” recalls GN Khayal, a senior scribe, “where India and Pakistan were involved in propaganda war over a war-zone called Kashmir.”

Despite facing pressures from United States that linked the 1993 World Trade Center bombing in New York City to Pakistani-trained gunmen and threatened to declare it a “terrorist state”, Pakistan continued supporting Kashmir movement, Khayal said. “Earlier on Feb 4, 1990, Premier Benazir Bhutto had called a conference of Pakistan political leaders on Kashmir situation where she announced February 5 as Solidarity Day with Kashmir.” Since then, the day is regularly being observed in Pakistan.

Five days later, on February 10, 1990, Pakistani Parliament passed a unanimous resolution rejecting J&K’s accession to Indian union, demanding UN resolution.

The fiery Benazir shortly visited “Azad Kashmir” and promised a “thousand year war” in support of Kashmir. “We have supported Kashmir’s struggle for right of self-determination in the past,” Benazir addressed a massive rally in Muzaffarabad on March 13, 1990. “We support them today and will continue to support them till death. And even if we die our last words will be: ‘fight for humanity, fight for right of self-determination, fight for Kashmir.’ ” Then in summer 1992, PM Nawaz Sharif addressed a series of public gatherings, chanting: Kashmir banega Pakistan. The slogan became Pakistan’s war-cry against India.

Khayal who was then reporting for many international news agencies said Pakistan’s persistent push eventually set the stage for D-Day at UN on March 9, 1994.

Crackdown and Parade during 90s.

Crackdown and Parade during 90s.

Then, Kashmir was passing through terrible times. The visiting United Nations Working Group on Enforced Disappearances had reported how families of disappeared persons themselves felt endangered after being “threatened for trying to locate their missing persons”. Scenes were worst in Kashmir detention centres. Electric shocks, burning with iron rods, crushing limbs with a heavy roller were new-normal. In its damning report of January 1994, UN reported, “…the use of rape is common in Kashmir as a weapon against women suspected of being sympathetic to or related to alleged militants.”

Laws were silent in Kashmir, Toronto Star reported: “…people are too frightened to act. Nothing gets done… They can come at any time… They can kill with impunity. There is no recourse for Kashmiris.” When all this was happening, John Malott of US State Department followed by Robin Raphael visited Delhi in May 1993 to term Kashmir a “dispute”. What soared the political mercury in Delhi was September 1993 “Kashmir dispute” reference made by US President in his UN General Assembly address.

Former India PM Narisimha Rao.

Former India PM Narasimha Rao.

Amid Pakistan’s UN march to flag Kashmir, Delhi under PM Narasimha Rao—“a patriot to the hilt” accused of “skulduggery”—responded by passing the Kashmir resolution on February 22, 1994: “On behalf of the People of India, the Indian Parliament firmly declares that The State of Jammu & Kashmir has been, is and shall be an integral part of India…”

Five days after Indian Parliament’s resolution, Pakistan tabled a resolution at UN Human Rights Commission (now Council) in Geneva through OIC that condemned India for HR abuses in Kashmir. If passed, UN Security Council would have imposed economic sanctions on India. Pakistan’s global campaign shook Delhi at a time when it was grappling with weak polity, poor economy and stunted security.

To counter the move, Premier Rao dispatched a team led by Opposition leader Atal Behari Vajpayee to Geneva. Salman Khursheed (then deputy to foreign minister Dinesh Singh) and Dr Farooq Abdullah (as the point-man) were named as emergency emissaries in Vajpayee’s team. Besides being Muslims, the duo’s qualification was their belligerent stand on issues. Six Indian ambassadors wielding good influence with OIC member nations were also put at diplomatic offensive.

UNHRC office in Geneva.

UNHRC office in Geneva.

At Geneva, however, hilarious scenes unfolded. Crowded UNHRC restaurant had become an apparent war-turf. It was being regularly thronged by horde of Indian and Pakistani emissaries. The restaurant manager even joked in view of mounting rush involved in war of words: We may consider starting a curry counter, if Kashmir issue continues to linger on. “Then, in a moment of heat,” said one Indian delegate, “Pakistani diplomats dubbed Salman Khursheed ‘a rented Muslim’.” But the senior Abdullah was at his usual funny bones.

“In times of heightened diplomatic tensions, Abdullah was telling everybody how playing golf was great in Kashmir,” the delegate said. “And in the next moment, he would disarm his opponents to challenge them to speak Kashmiri with him to prove their ‘Kashmiriyat’.” But even Farooq’s amusing tricks couldn’t conceal peaked tensions felt by Delhi over Kashmir issue.

It was nothing like 1990 — when VP Singh had called for war preparations, but only psychologically. Now, Indian and Pakistani diplomats were locking horn in fierce combat, especially at Geneva. But still, lobbying against Pakistan’s Kashmir resolution was proving a herculean task for India. South Block even believed that Pakistan would repeat the resolution at UN General Assembly and Security Council where its membership lasted until the end of 1994. For Delhi, it was a spanking new diplomatic dread.

In desperation, Rao and Vajpayee approached the liberal Islamic nations. The duo alarmed them about “perceptive perils” their regimes were likely to face from “Islamic fundamentalism” blistering from “Pakistan-Afghan nexus”. Already Home Secretary NN Vohra—now J&K Governor—and the then foreign secretary JN Dixit had briefed 42 Delhi-based ambassadors about the situation. The Vohra-Dixit duet was all about doing some damage control exercise for Delhi.

Still, Indian policymakers termed it a long-standing campaign — given US’s policy shift toward Benazir Bhutto, caught in a domestic crisis in Pakistan. Under these tense moments, Delhi witnessed an unexpected visit.

The visitor was Kanwal Sibal, Delhi’s key Washington envoy. He had arrived with two hired lobbyists in tow for briefings. Naming US a significant buffer in Indo-Pak acidic relations, Sibal batted for “any solution” to Kashmir, which he believed, was totally “messed up” by Delhi. But Rao had his own Kashmir plans. In times of war, he wanted to sell peace by conducting polls in Kashmir.

Behind Rao’s ‘ballot boost’ confidence was an ex-J&K governor and RAW chief GC Saxena who had termed situation “ripe for a political initiative” in Valley — then reeling under President’s rule for four years. But strangely, Rao and Saxena were anticipating the “return of democracy” when intelligence agencies had even termed Doda a “guerrilla country” — camped with whole host of guest mujahideens. In valley, Kalashnikov-wielding gunmen were still roaming on streets.

“Unlike in Punjab,” one major-general D Banerjee, an ex-defence analyst, had explained, “given the ideological backing, Kashmir insurgency has the potential of continuing indefinitely in the absence of a political initiative.” Then, valley officially housed 800 foreign fighters. And Governor KV Krishna Rao was expecting 5,000 more by the time “snow melts”.

But at UN, the diplomatic war was hotting up much before the snow could melt in valley. Premier Rao who famously declined to “play an astrologer” on Kashmir was eyeing for the long diplomatic battle after denouncing Pakistan’s resolution. However, what followed at UNHCR shortly confirmed how deeply Delhi’s ‘diplomatic state’ was at play at Geneva in early 1994.

UNHRC Commissioner Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein

UNHRC Commissioner Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein

After World War-II, international human rights were designed to hold governments accountable for purely internal activities. Setting up of United Nations that year (1945) further guaranteed to safeguard the human rights. But in Kashmir, the rights situation offers the biggest challenge to human rights regime.

Being “unfinished agenda of partition”, Kashmir was first referred to United Nations by India’s first premier Jawahar Lal Nehru on January 1, 1948, stating: “We have declared that the fate of Kashmir is ultimately to be decided by the people. That pledge we give not only to the people of Kashmir but to the world. We will not and cannot back out of it.”

Having taken the issue to UN, India was confident of winning a plebiscite — as the most popular Kashmiri leader, Sheikh Abdullah, was apparently by its side. No plebiscite was held and instead on January 1, 1949, a ceasefire was agreed, with 65 per cent of the territory under Indian control and the remaining with Pakistan. And since then, Kashmir keeps reverberating at UN, albeit periodically — like it did, in summer 2016, when Geneva summoned India and Pakistan over Kashmir situation.

All party meeting held in New Delhi on August 12, 2016.

All party meeting held in New Delhi on August 12, 2016.

The fresh call came when the all party meeting in Delhi on August 12, 2016 was informed by external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj that UNHRC has sought permission to send its team to troubled Kashmir. The letter sent on July 19, 2016 had alarmed Delhi — as the team wanted to investigate HR violations in Kashmir. As India has “always avoided” UNHRC’s involvement in valley, the permission was declined.

But as Kashmir’s another seething summer saw nearly 90 persons getting killed, above 13,000 injured and nearly 600 blinded within 75 days, UN again sought international probe into HR violations in valley. Behind the fresh upheaval was the trigger of popular militant commander Burhan Wani’s killing on July 8 at Kokernag.

“The deteriorating situation in India-held Kashmir has now made it crucial to establish an independent, impartial and international mission to assess the situation,” said Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, the UN HR Commissioner, who first brought the Kashmir situation on stage during his address to UNHRC’s 33rd regular session at Geneva on Sept 13.

Disclosing to have received a letter on Sept 9 from Islamabad, inviting his team to visit “Azad Kashmir” only in tandem with a mission to Indian side, al-Hussein revealed that he was yet to receive a formal letter from Delhi. “Human rights violations will not disappear,” he asserted, “if a government blocks access to international observers and then invests in a public relations campaign to offset any unwanted publicity.”

It didn’t go well with Delhi that termed Kashmir part of its “pluralistic” democracy before taking a dig at Pakistan’s “deep state” in Muzaffarabad and pot-shot at UNHCR. But despite India’s diplomatic counter-manoeuvring, Pakistan once again succeeded in internationalising Kashmir issue. However, a war of words shortly broke out in UNHRC between UN ambassadors of India and Pakistan.

As Delhi accused Pakistan of illegal occupation of Kashmir , Pakistan responded saying that India has “insulted” the intelligence of the council with its “usual twisting of historical facts” and “traditional Indian pattern of obfuscation and denial”. It invited the Indian delegation to admit to the heavy presence of Indian special forces in the region besides “indiscriminate use” of pellet guns. “Can the Indian delegate deny that the UN has called for the holding of an impartial plebiscite to ascertain the wishes of Kashmiri people?” Pakistan asked.

India continued rejecting Pakistan’s “misuse” of the council to make “tendentious references to the internal matter of the Indian state of J&K”. But Pakistan termed Kashmir an international issue and said that the “terrible situation” in Kashmir flows from the nature of “Indian occupation” .

Khurram Parvez, an online petition has been started to seek his immediate release.

Khurram Parvez, an online petition has been started to seek his immediate release.

Tensions prevailing at UN started showing its impact in Kashmir. Shortly the Geneva-bound Kashmiri human rights defender was barred from flying before being detained in nocturnal raid from his residence on Sept 16. Khurram Parvez, 39, was to address a session at UNHRC and submit a “civil society stakeholder’s report” on Kashmir situation. His two other colleagues Parvez Imroz and Kartik Murukutla managed to travel to Geneva.

Days before his detention—first of its kind in recent past involving a rights activist—Khurram had told Amnesty International India: “They are aware that I have been collecting information at the grassroots as a part of the documentation work that JKCCS has been doing on the present situation in Kashmir.”

Many feel vindicated that Khurram’s detention and subsequent slapping with the lawless public safety act has reaffirmed the fact that Kashmir’s Geneva forays have always upset the setup. They cite an instance of an attorney at law—Jalil-ul-Qadr Andrabi—who had highlighted Kashmir issue in Geneva during turbulent nineties.

While challenging the Governor’s powers of lodging Kashmiri detainees in jails outside the territorial jurisdiction of the state High Court, Andrabi addressed UNHRC session at Geneva in 1995. That year, he was invited by US-based Kashmir American Council. According to his colleagues, Andrabi shortly came under the scanner for his Geneva activities. He was arrested by a party of Territorial Army led by Major Avtaar Singh near Rawalpora when he was driving home. His body surfaced near Zero Bridge from river Jhelum on March 26, 1996.

And then, years later, when another Kashmiri reached Geneva, it badly displeased the establishment. After being smuggled by an NGO across LoC in Kashmir, Aneesa Nabi landed in Geneva in March 2011. She shocked the world diplomats and activists with her gut-wrenching story. But back in Srinagar, her extended family had reportedly received threats over her Geneva march.

The teenager addressed the UNHRC’s 16th session in a choked voice, narrating how her father Ghulam Nabi Khan was detained and subjected to enforced disappearance by Indian Army on July 24, 1996. “I was only four then,” Aneesa said. Her mother Dilshad joined APDP to trace her husband. She recalled how army warned her mother against joining the NGO lobbying for disappeared persons. “But my mother persisted with her fight,” the daughter told the diplomats.

In 2003, army barged into her house and opened fire on her mother from automatic guns, Aneesa said and cried. “She was carrying a toddler, my younger brother, in her arms and never let him ago despite receiving fatal injuries.” The boy’s leg was shattered by bullets but he survived.

Her story even ‘moved’ a known Indian lobbyist (Kashmiri Pandit) who left the hall in tears and pledged to brief Delhi over Kashmir. An Indian academic Dr Krishna Ahoojapatel was apparently mourning on the stage when an African panelist stood up from her chair, walked up to Aneesa and hugged her like a mother would hug a daughter.

But why was she in Geneva?

“I hope it helps me find my father,” Aneesa said.

Aneesa Nabi (R) with associate at Geneva.

Aneesa Nabi (R) with her associate at Geneva in 2011.

With this belief, Geneva continues receiving an annual rush from Kashmir. But 2016 proved different for the obvious reasons. Perhaps sensing the same difference, Hyderabad MP Asaduddin Owaisi had questioned Modi government’s raison d’être to deny UNHRC team a visit to valley in that Delhi meeting on August 12. “Delhi took the issue of human rights situation in Nepal to UN,” Owaisi as per an insider had told the meeting chaired by Premier Modi, “so it should allow UNHRC team to visit Kashmir.”

But the denial even made al-Hussein to question the motive during his opening UNHRC speech. “Efforts to duck or refuse legitimate scrutiny raise an obvious question: What, precisely, are you hiding from us? States may shut my office out, but they will not shut us up. Neither will they blind us.”

Perhaps in these times of heightening diplomatic tensions and patterns, one must know what finally happened at Geneva in that early 1994 spring.

Narasimha Rao with Atal Bihari Vajpayee.

Narasimha Rao with Atal Bihari Vajpayee.

In the run-up to March 9, 1994 resolution, Rao had discreetly flown his hospitalised foreign minister Dinesh Singh to Tehran by a chartered plane. The visitor was received by Rao’s personal friend and Iranian foreign minister Ali Akbar Velayati at Mehrabad airport who drove him straight to President Hashmi Rafsinjani’s residence. Singh had brought a small letter from Rao to Rafsinjani.

Chinese foreign minister Aian Qichen was also visiting Tehran then. Singh held a meeting with him in backdrop of Uighur East Turkistan Movement in Chinese province of Xingjian. Later that night, Singh was back to his hospital bed. He had executed Rao’s plan to perfection. Years later, some Indian politicians recalled it Rao’s “masterstroke”, which next paved way to Vajpayee’s “poetic” move.

Then, Vajpayee was preparing UK-based Indian business tycoon—the Hindujas—to influence Tehran. Being very close to Iran, the Hindujas hammered out the issue in Iran to shift the scene in Geneva. Then in a big tactical decision to influence China, Indian diplomat voted on a resolution in favour of Beijing in Geneva before Delhi scuttled George Fernandez’s international seminar on Tibet issue. With shrewd politicking, Rao and Vajpayee effectively neutralised Iran and China — two key players in Pakistan’s anti-India game plan.

Delhi’s OIC choreography also worked. While Indonesia and Libya withdrew support to OIC Resolution, Syria left in a huff saying it would reconsider the revised draft. On the final day, March 9, 1994, Iran asked for deferment of voting amid consultations. By 5pm that day, Pakistan withdrew the resolution after having lost both China and Iran.

But despite losing its UN resolution to Rao and Vajpayee’s wily diplomacy, Pakistan succeeded in internationalising Kashmir issue.

Pak Premier Nawaz Sharif speaks during the 71st session of the UN General Assembly on Sept. 21, 2016. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

Pak Premier Nawaz Sharif during the 71st session of UN General Assembly on Sept. 21, 2016.

Twenty two years after, as Pakistan took Kashmir back to Geneva, there seem to exist a clear pattern. Pakistan PM Nawaz Sharief is again pitching: Kashmir banega Pakistan. Like Benazir, he observed Kashmir Day in Pakistan besides promising his country’s full support to Kashmir issue. He ruled out any peace between India and Pakistan without Kashmir resolution. From big podium, the Pakistan Premier batted for right to self determination for Kashmir and called Burhan Wani a symbol of Kashmir’s “new intifada”. He also handed over a voluminous dossier of “Indian brutalities” in Kashmir to distressed secretary general Ban ki-moon.

Like 1994, OIC has already castigated Delhi for its rights record in Kashmir. Even Turkey and Italy have put their weight behind the Kashmir situation. And unlike last time, China has vowed its support to Pakistan in its Kashmir endeavour. But neither Ban Ki-moon nor Barack Obama mentioned Kashmir in their last UN addresses.

Amid this, Modi — a new-age “patriot to the hilt” — is adhering to diplomatic offensive like his predecessor Rao. He wants to “isolate” Pakistan by dint of his “unabashed selling” of India as an investment destination. So far, his salesman image has strengthened his foreign policy, reportedly scripted by his National Security Advisor Ajit Doval—the spymaster who gave Kashmir an anti-hero in the form of Kuka Parrey. But will it click for Delhi? Amid the question, peaking diplomatic tensions have created war-like situation between two nuke-armoured neighbours.

But in Now and Then comparison, there exists one dogged pattern. In the run-up to March 9, 1994 UNHRC resolution, some gunners walked up to the guards at Zadura’s radar station, killing nine of them, point-blank. In 2016, gunners managed to pile 18 bodies in militarised Uri.

Amid this signature shelling and Delhi’s desperate sabre-rattling, it’s showtime at Geneva.

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