The India-Pakistan face-off at the UN

The United Nations has become the new platform for a shrill spat between the neighbours on human rights violations in Kashmir and Balochistan


Shreerupa Mitra-Jha | September 29, 2016 | Geneva

#Terrorism   #Balochistan   #Kashmir   #UN   #United Nations   #India-Pakistan   #Pakistan   #Uri attack  

The glaring highlights for the Indian (and the Pakistani) reader from the 33rd session of the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) were the verbal spats between India and Pakistan. As the tones got increasingly accusatory with each right of reply (RoR), the concerned audience waited with bated breath for a response, as if historical disputes between the troubled neighbours would see a final victor through this exchange. The national media of the countries involved, predictably, had a field day reporting on this display of verbal prowess.

With this, India and Pakistan, presumably, join a long list of countries that clash at every session of the HRC – Russia and the US, the US and Cuba, Turkey and Russia, Israel and the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) countries that support Palestine, Japan and South Korea, South Korea and North Korea and so forth. Some standard practices have also developed. For instance, the Israeli ambassador is never present in the council when the Palestine question is raised, the American ambassador invariably delivers a harangue on how Israel is the only country to have a separate agenda item for its human rights violations and, thus, is a victim of the council’s biases and the North Korean ambassador speaks of decimating South Korea. We are also, probably, developing some practices of our own while responding to our rival country as witnessed in this session (and as explained below).

It was only in 2015 that India again started responding to Pakistan’s statements on Kashmir at the HRC. During the Manmohan Singh government, India had adopted a policy of not responding to either Pakistani or NGO statements. Pakistan’s statements were usually made as part of the OIC’s statement read out by Pakistan. Pakistan would also highlight the Kashmir issue under item 3 – promotion and protection of all human rights, civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights, including the right to development. But the statements were not as acrimonious as they have become after India started responding. It was also the first time this session that India raised the issue at the UN of human rights violations in Balochistan as a counter for the Kashmir question raised by its rival country.

What, when

There were at least four occasions during the current session in which India and Pakistan sparred with each other. The first instance was on September 14 during a general debate on the UN human rights chief’s statement to the council. The second occasion was during a general debate on all human rights including the right to development held on September 16. The third round was on September 19 during a general debate on agenda item 4 – human right situations that require the council’s attention. And finally, the countries clashed on September 26, the same day that Indian foreign minister Sushma Swaraj delivered her speech at the UN General Assembly (UNGA). (The magazine went to press before the session ended on September 30 and, so, has reported events till September 27).

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al-Hussein whose statement to the council focused on governments that deny access to the UN to troubled regions within their jurisdiction mentioned the lack of access of his team to Jammu and Kashmir (J&K). He “publicly” urged both “Indian-administered” and “Pakistan-administered” Kashmir to grant his human rights team access for an international, independent report on the unfolding situation. Pakistan has put forth the condition that a visit to Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) can be allowed only if it is in tandem with a UN mission to “India-occupied Kashmir” (IoK). India responded on September 14 by stating that it had “noted” the high commissioner’s statement on J&K and said that the two provinces remained an integral part of India. The occurring violence in the two provinces had been “choreographed from across the borders”, India stated. Indian security forces had exercised “maximum restraint” in dealing with terrorists, Indian ambassador to the UN office at Geneva Ajit Kumar said.

Pakistan responding to Zeid’s statement raised the Kashmir issue – it said that human rights violations were “rampant” in “IoK” and Pakistan was looking forward to the visit by the high commissioner to the area. The fact that India had not yet agreed to a visit by the high commissioner attested to the fact that India had something to hide, said Tehmina Janjua, the Pakistani ambassador to the UN office at Geneva. Kashmir was not a part of India, Pakistan emphasised. The Indian army was deliberately targeting civilians and after 80 deaths and thousands of injured people, the “definition of restraint must be unique to India”, Janjua, who is likely to become the next Pakistani foreign secretary, retorted.

“PoK is administered by a ‘deep state’ and has become an epicentre of terrorism. Pakistan’s human rights record in PoK and Balochistan is deplorable,” Alok Ranjan Jha, counsellor (political) at the Indian mission to the UN in Geneva, told the council exercising its RoR to Pakistan’s statement. The high casualty figure of Indian security forces show the restraint that they have displayed in difficult circumstances. “All of us are prepared to help if the creators of this monster wake up to the dangers of what they have done to themselves,” India told the council.

Pakistan, in turn, used its RoR to respond by stating that India has “insulted” the intelligence of the council with their “usual twisting of historical facts” and “traditional Indian pattern of obfuscation and denial”. “Can the Indian delegate deny that the UN has called for the holding of an impartial plebiscite to ascertain the wishes of Kashmiri people,” Mariam Saeed, a first secretary at the Pakistani mission to the UN in Geneva, asked.

India, after this, used its second and last RoR and rejected Pakistan’s misuse of the council to make “tendentious” references to the “internal matter of the Indian state of J&K”. Pakistan has sponsored cross-border terrorism since 1989, India accused. Referring to the country as the “gravest risk” for stability in the region, India said that many countries had asked Pakistan to stop acting as the “epicentre of terrorism”. The country must take action against terrorists who have perpetrated violence against their neighbours and are now roaming freely with impunity, Jha replied.

Pakistan didn’t let go off its chance to use its second RoR. It was an “unrealistic hope” that India will accept that Kashmir is an international issue and that the “terrible situation in Kashmir flows from the nature of Indian occupation”, Saeed said.

The second spat came two days later under a general debate on the promotion of civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights when the Indian ambassador read out a statement emphasising that terrorism remains the greatest violator of human rights globally. The international community could not be allowed to take half-measures against terrorism.

Under this general debate, Pakistan again raked up the issue of Kashmir. The people in J&K under “IoK” have been struggling for over six decades to determine their own future, and for this, they have paid a “terrible cost”, Janjua said.

Calling Burhan Wani “a youth Kashmiri leader”, Janjua asked for a “fair and transparent” international investigation into the extra-judicial killings in the region.

“Pakistan keeps referring to UN Security Council resolutions on J&K. However, it very conveniently forgets its own obligation under these resolutions to first vacate the illegal occupation of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir,” Jha said in a statement. Pakistan has “blatantly disregarded” the 1972 Simla agreement, the 2004 Joint Declaration forswearing terrorism, and the understanding between the two prime ministers at Ufa, India said.

Parts of J&K were indeed under foreign occupation, but the occupying force was Pakistan. It asked Pakistan to do “some deep introspection” and stated that the “self-proclaimed” terrorist commander of the Hizbul Mujahideen had links to the “deep state” across the border.

Pakistan retorted that India is openly interfering in Pakistan’s internal matters, particularly in Balochistan and told India that it supported one of the deadliest terror groups in Asia – the Tamil Tigers. India was the only country in denial of the human rights violations in Kashmir and the Indian occupation of J&K was a “travesty” which some had described as a worse occupation than that of the Nazi Germans. Kashmir would always be at the top of the agenda for any talks between the two countries, Janjua said.

During a general debate on human rights situation that require the council’s attention on September 19, and following the Uri attack, India made a statement on the support to terrorism from across its borders. “The fact that known terrorists like Hafiz Saeed and Syed Salahuddin are able to hold huge rallies in Pakistan’s main cities is a reflection of the state of affairs and can mean only one thing: active support for such personalities and designated organisations they lead in blatant disregard for rule of law is the new normal in Pakistan,” said Indian ambassador Ajit Kumar.

“Rather than internationalising issues with India, Pakistan needs to cleanse itself of its terrorists,” Kumar said.

Predictably, Pakistan responded.

“It is truly ironical that India, which has unleashed this terror and is sponsoring terrorism in its neighbouring country, claims to be a victim of terrorism. We have given evidence to the UN Secretary-General and to the international community of Indian involvement in terrorism and fomenting instability in Pakistan,” said Janjua.

“This evidence provides details of Indian interference and support for terrorism in Balochistan and in Karachi as well as its security and intelligence agencies’ link with the Taliban in Pakistan,” she added.

Exercising a right of reply, India told the council that Pakistan has territorial ambitions in India since 1947 as expressed in the aggression it embarked on in 1947, 1965 and 1999.

“As on date, Pakistan is in forcible and illegal occupation of approximately 78,000 of square kilometres of Indian territory in J&K,” India said. Minorities in Pakistan are routinely persecuted and their places of worship destroyed, India accused. 

Pakistan, in turn, called India’s concerns about Balochistan “hypocritical”. 

“In case India insists on flouting all international norms and on pronouncing itself on the internal affairs of Pakistan then we will need to address situation in India as a whole,” Saima Saleem, a first secretary at the Pakistani mission in Geneva and the first blind Pakistani diplomat, said.

On September 26, under a general debate on agenda item 8 of the HRC – implementation of Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action – Pakistan stated that it is “regrettable” that for decades the people of “Indian-occupied J&K” are still being denied the right to self-determination.

“The repression and brutality they [Kashmiris] face is constant,” Pakistan said. The clampdown by the Indian state has led to a denial of a host of human rights of the Kashmiri people.

Pakistan claimed that it is an “absurd narrative” that the council is being asked to believe that the situation in J&K is about terrorism, adding that the people were being “bludgeoned and brutalised” by an occupying power so that they give up their “just” right to self-determination.

“Genuine human rights defenders like Khurram Parvez are stopped by India from speaking at the Council. This is a clear case of reprisals. Mr President, you need to take action,” Pakistan said.

India shot back in its RoR stating that it is dealing with a “terrorist state” which channels billions of dollars to support terrorist groups and it is still awaiting “credible action” by the Pakistani government to bring the perpetrators of the 2008 Mumbai attacks and the 2016 Pathankot attacks to justice. The latest attack in Uri shows that the terrorist infrastructure in Pakistan “remains active”.

Pakistan’s belief in terror strategies is so deep that they use them on their own people in Balochistan, Sindh, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa as well as the tribal areas in its northwest, India accused.

“The recovery of GPS, grenades with Pakistani markings, communication matrix sheets and equipment and other stores made in Pakistan, and patterns of infiltration and attacks, is clear evidence of involvement of terror organisations based in Pakistan or territory under its control,” India stated. Internationally proscribed terrorist entities and their leaders continue to roam the streets of Pakistan freely and operate with state support; even raising funds openly in flagrant violation of Pakistan’s international obligations.

Symbolic war or more?

This was the first time that the issue of Balochistan was raised at the UN by India. Underlining a tit-for-tat diplomacy by getting Balochistan into the conversation, India, presumably, wants to ensure that Pakistan cannot internationalise Kashmir without running the risk of internationalising Balochistan. India has, additionally, offered asylum to Baloch leaders who are being persecuted in Pakistan.

Brahamdagh Bugti, a Baloch Republican Party leader who has been living in Switzerland after escaping from Pakistan, has approached the Indian government for asylum. Pakistan has said that if his request is granted then India could become an “official sponsor of terrorism”.

Hyrbyair Marri, leader of Free Balochistan Movement, has also declared his intention of applying for asylum in India, adding that a number of Baloch activists and leaders staying in Europe could approach India for asylum if their domicile countries try to deport them to Pakistan.

The jury is still out on whether the noise generated by invoking the Balochistan issue is commensurate with diplomatic gains from this shift in approach for India. For starters, a scofflaw Pakistan definitely wasn’t shamed with the B-word at the UN. It may have also been expecting such a scenario after prime minister Narendra Modi raised the issue in his Independence Day speech. In fact, it raised its pitch on Kashmir after India’s statements on Balochistan. It was a posturing versus posturing match. It may have even pleased the Pakistani military bosses to see such a slinging exchange of accusations.

Much of the diplomatic snubs meted out by India to Pakistan were so subtle that they were lost on the general public and the media. It went unnoticed that the Indian ambassador to the UN in Geneva only read out statements that were made suo motu but did not participate in the verbal spat during the RoR sessions. India used an officer (Jha) who is much junior to the Indian ambassador to respond to statements made by Pakistani ambassador Janjua even though both the Indian ambassador and the deputy ambassador were present when the statements were being made. Pakistan realised this quickly and it in turn used its first secretaries – Saeed and Saleem – to respond to the Indian mission. Ditto for India’s response at the UN General Assembly (UNGA) made by Eenam Gambhir. Gambhir was chosen not only because she is a woman (as reported in an article) but also because she is one of the junior officers at the UN mission in New York. The message was clear: we use our first secretary-level officers to respond to your PM’s statements.

However, the very vocal exchange of accusations definitely did warm the cockles of heart of the domestic audiences of both countries. But the tit-for-tat diplomacy has also raised the rancour for a war with a let’s-teach-them-a-lesson mood among the public, particularly in wake of the Uri attack. The terrorist attack in Uri was also suspiciously well-timed between India’s Balochistan statements at the HRC and Nawaz Sharif’s speech at UNGA.

The crucial question is: where do we go from here with the Balochistan card? If India does indeed plan on supporting the insurgency in Balochistan then declaratory statements at the UN may not be a very effective strategy. Though the region harbours only five percent of the Pakistani population, it covers 45 percent of its territory that is rich in natural resources and has the strategically important port of Gwadar in its south. There is scant chance of pulling in Balochistan without ruffling feathers in China (China has already expressed support for Pakistan in the aftermath of the Uri attack) because of the costly China-Pakistan Economic Corridor that passes through the region. Iran and Afghanistan may feel uneasy with an active Baloch insurgency – both countries have a Baloch population. The international community would, understandably, feel threatened by rising tensions between the nuclear-armed neighbours. Will a volatile state like Pakistan sit back if it senses real threat from a Baloch uprising supported by its enemy country? One hopes that the potential fallouts, and gains, from India playing the Baloch card too aggressively and too visibly have been well thought through in the corridors of power.

(The article appears in the October 1-15, 2016 issue)



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