Earlier this week, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein expressed deep regret at the failure of Indian and Pakistani authorities to grant the UN Human Rights Office access to “…Indian-administered Jammu and Kashmir and Pakistan-administered Kashmir respectively, given the grave concerns about recent allegations of serious human rights violations.”
The UN body requested the visit to independently assess allegations of use of excessive force and allegations of state sponsorship of violence among other issues. “Without access, we can only fear the worst,” said Zeid.
That is a remarkably clumsy if not arrogant warning to the world’s largest democracy. Read the statement here.
I have reported from the UN in Geneva for over 15 years. The UN Human Right Commission (UNHRC) is by far the most hypocritical and makes perilous pronouncements based on who is cracking the whip.
Before the fall of the Berlin Wall in the late eighties, the Cold War line-up was clear. Friends of Russia and friends of America with a few countries that would be open to garish lobbying.
The body was always a bully, one that backed off when the kind of power it understands – money or geopolitical interests – kicked in. Now with perpetually changing alliances and trade emerging as the new currency the game is different, but the intentions remain a devious as before. After all, one of the UNHRC council is headed by Saudi Arabia – what better indication of fierce and unflinching commitment to human rights.
This week’s statement however is a new low. It comes at a time when tensions are very high in the Indian state and high-level talks between India and Pakistan are scheduled. There is incontrovertible evidence that Pakistan has been sending terrorists to Kashmir and the most recent killing of Burhan Wani is one example of how deep the damage is.
There are a few in India calling for plebiscite, others saying India must spend all its economic might on Kashmir - as if the country has not been doing so for the past 70 years - while yet other Indians are pointing fingers at New Delhi. All these are signs that India is a healthy, vibrant and strong democracy where over 800 million people renew their lawmakers every five years. We are far from perfect, but which democracy is?
I found the UNHRC’s statement galling and asked the High Commissioner for an interview. He was busy, could I mail in my questions, his office asked.
Here is what I wanted to know.
- UNSC resolution 47 in 1948 asked Pakistan to vacate its illegal occupation of the Indian state of Kashmir. Why is your office airbrushing history now by calling it Pakistan administered Kashmir?
- You want access to Kashmir to establish facts independently. Are you saying that the world’s largest democracy – India - is incapable of managing its internal affairs?
- You speak of use of excessive force, allegations of state sponsorship of violence etc. Are you accusing the Indian state of sponsoring violence?
- You are concerned about “conflicting and competing claims on both sides.” One is an aggressor and the other is defending the aggression. Can’t you see the difference?
- Your office can be accused to fear mongering by stating that without access you fear the worst in Kashmir. What do you have to say to that?
I received a non-response which repeated the press note and had this to add. “Your email demonstrates how politically charged the situation is and this is precisely why there is a need for independent observers – focused exclusively on human rights – to gather and assess facts on both sides,” the UNHRC said covering itself in more ignominy.
Apropos, I cannot recall one international human rights problem the UNHRC has successfully resolved. For it some humans are always more right than others.
There is another side to this story. And that is the failure of Indian diplomacy in keeping Pakistan on the straight and narrow path to talk on terror in Geneva as well.
The UN's European headquarters in this city is all about multilateral diplomacy, of remaining alert to the gnomes that don't necessary meet only at the UN. There are many multilateral agencies - trade groupings, industrial groupings, civil society groupings as well as other UN agencies - where too Pakistan lobbies for Kashmir. The new government has managed to circumscribe Islamabad partially but makes the mistake of resting on assurances from western capitals. Diplomats will cite chapter on their actions, but Pakistan will never give-up on its meal ticket called Kashmir.
Generations of Indian diplomats have made careers out of Pakistan bashing, Pakistan cajoling, Pakistan visiting, Pakistan partying. The gravy train includes journalists and civil society members, the Government College Lahore lobbies and policy makers. The systematic destruction of India's deep assets is a matter of public knowledge. Till recently, it seemed Indian Foreign policy had one aim - Pakistan. From the hyperventilating panellists on Indian news networks to think-tankers in New Delhi the drift reflected India’s dovish or hawkish moments but Pakistan was all consuming. For Islamabad which has never wanted peace, the new round of terrorism is new assets under management (AUM). India needs new thinking.
The UNHRC’s statement maybe monstrously misguided, but it has backers. This office takes no independent action, never has and never will. New Delhi has done well to block the UNHRC. But it cannot let up an instant in countering Pakistani propaganda. On that count, India has some work to do. Depending on gravy-train travellers and Delhi's groupies is a bad idea.