Is it easier for India to adopt a tough line in Kashmir today than it was in the 1990s? How is India’s position today different from the 1990s when New Delhi felt the impact of censure from groups like Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, U.S. and European capitals? Is the world too distracted right now to lecture India on human rights? We ask experts Ajai Sahni, Aakar Patel, Lt. Gen. (Retd.) Ata Hasnain, Kanwal Sibal, Manvendra Singh and Khurram Parvez.
Social media mobilisation by extremist proxies and biased human rights groups compound the problem
Executive Director, Institute for Conflict Management
Vacillating approaches to the Kashmir issue and the inability to manage perceptions have been India’s enduring problems, rather than any distinction between a ‘tough’ or ‘soft’ line. At an operational level, ‘minimal use of force’ has been the dominant doctrine. This has been poorly projected, even as there has been an abysmal failure to understand the perverse nature of the global human rights regime. Brutal, genocidal campaigns by Western powers and their allies are ignored, while minor aberrations by independent states like India are infinitely exaggerated. Aerial, artillery and drone campaigns in populated areas, with massive civilian casualties, are justified; no one speaks of the depopulation of entire regions in Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa or Balochistan, the indiscriminate bombings, and the unaccounted thousands killed and ‘disappeared’ in these regions, under a blanket ban on media coverage; but the narrowly targeted small unit operations in the full glare of media, that Indian forces engage in at great risk, are demonised. Saudi Arabia, with an appalling human rights record, is ‘elected’ chair of the UN Human Rights Commission. What more needs to be said?
Massive social media mobilisation by extremist proxies and biased human rights groups controlled by the West, have enormously compounded the problem. The state and groups opposed to the Islamist extremist-terrorist campaigns in Kashmir have failed to adequately harness these media. The security forces pay the price of this failure in blood.
We must evolve a reality-based approach to the global human rights regime. While our commitment to basic human rights values must not be diluted, we must, equally, not allow false human rights fronts and deeply politicised global human rights organisations to influence our strategies and tactics.
The real reason India can get away with abusing rights in Kashmir is not external, but internal
Commentator on human rights
India’s Army, like Pakistan’s, is supreme on matters of ‘national interest’. It gets a free pass in Kashmir. The elected state government has no power to check the Army’s abuse. The law is impotent.
Proof: not one of the crimes involving soldiers that Kashmir’s police has registered, investigated and charged since 1989 has ever been tried in a civilian court. This is possible through a mechanism in AFSPA, section 7, that exists but is never used. The contempt for Kashmir’s police shows in the fact that Delhi has not even replied to them, denying closure to Indian citizens, victims and survivors of these crimes.
The state government is silent, terrified of Delhi. The media doesn’t mind that the Army mistrusts Indian judges in Indian courts. We are angered by an opaque army court dealing with Kulbhushan Jadhav in Pakistan but are fine with our Army hiding behind this in India.
Since 9/11, nations dealing with Muslim separatism have conflated it with terrorism while the world looks away. It is also the case that India is today, unlike in 1989, a minor global power, less vulnerable to global pressure.
But the real reason India can freely go about abusing the rights of its citizens, denying an entire state’s population freedom of speech (by cutting off internet access) is not external. It is internal, the result of successful propaganda spreading hate and misinformation.
It has produced a brainwashed population that can swallow the use of lethal weaponry if it’s rebranded. What the whole world knows as pump action shotguns, we call pellet guns. This helps security forces openly continue its violations, egged on by a demented media.
The hard approach in Kashmir delivered results in the 1990s
LT. GEN. SYED ATA HASNAIN (Retd.)
Former commander, XV Corps, Indian Army
The Indian Army’s actions in J&K withstood the campaign of human rights activists in the early 1990s. It was a time when the mix of hard and soft power, as part of its counter-terror strategy, tilted in favor of the hard. This delivered results against unrelenting onslaught of sponsored terror. After the 1996 elections, a conscious policy decision diluted the hard power. This coincided with humanisation of conflict measures like the Sadbhavna doctrine, adoption of do-s and don’t-s of the Supreme Court guidelines on AFSPA (1990), issue of the Army Chief’s Ten Commandments on good conduct and the drafting of the Northern Command procedure for conduct of operations. This culminated in the adoption of the Hearts Doctrine in 2011.
Since 2016, public order has deteriorated with flash mobs interfering with the Army’s anti-terror operations, large attendance at terrorist funerals and enhanced civilian vigilantism to intimidate citizens. So, the hard-soft power balance has now tilted towards hard power. But this has not affected the ongoing people friendly activities of the Army such as Super 40 (the sponsoring of Kashmiri children for competitive IIT/JEE examinations), medical and veterinary camps and other fraternisation efforts. The Indian Army’s message Awam aur Jawan, Aman Hai Muqam continues to remain its focus.
The Indian system’s counter to the adversary social media propaganda is weak and insufficiently institutionalised. It must be far more robust to meet the inevitable onslaught of anti-national elements who wish to paint the Indian Army black. The Army too needs to get on with its job and leave the talking to people trained for the job. A return to a soft power tilt in the near future is inevitable and that’s the message which needs to be conveyed.
Unlike other countries, we have not used air power, heavy weaponry, religious curbs, internal population displacement, demographic changes in Kashmir
Former Indian foreign secretary
The issue is not the conduct of the Indian Army in Kashmir as its actions there follow political directives. The Army is an instrument to protect our sovereignty in Kashmir from external and internal challenges. These are unique as we face state-sponsored terrorism from a nuclear-armed neighbour moved by Islamic ideology and decades of animosity.
Even when Pakistan’s involvement in terrorism in India and Afghanistan is well-established, for geopolitical reasons it has escaped dissuasive sanctions by the West. Growing Islamic radicalisation in Pakistan, legitimising the Taliban, and the rise of the Islamic State impact on Muslim sentiments in Kashmir where its Sufi traditions are being eroded by conservative Islam. This compounds the challenge in controlling the unrest there.
Our security forces work within a democratic framework, with legal oversight, scrutiny by human rights organisations at home and abroad, critical media and an active civil society. Unlike other countries we have not used air power, heavy weaponry, religious curbs, internal population displacement, demographic changes to control the situation. The use of pellet guns or stray incidents of violation of operational manuals should be seen in perspective.
Censure by international human rights organisations is unavoidable, but let them concentrate on the plight of countries ravaged by the West’s regime-change policies. Not only India of 2017 is not the India of the 1990s, the menace of Islamist terrorism is now recognised globally and this benefits India’s case. Our own institutions should ensure respect of our laws. Managing propaganda on the social media is most difficult, but not for India alone.
Those who hectored India in the past are not in a position today to tell India what to do
Editor, Defence and Security Alert magazine, and BJP MLA from Rajasthan
As summer temperatures rise, so do passions in and over Kashmir. While Jammu and Ladakh carry on as ever, some in the Valley return to ritual uprising, and many outside the state return to hauling India over the coals. It is a cycle that always seems to get policy makers in a twist.
But India has moved on, and so has Kashmir. Hollowed out by the psycho-social impact of Mandal, and an economy in a tailspin, India seemed a doomed, perennially third-world country in 1989. International nosy types, and their native human rights activists, had India on the mat, pinned and counting.
Today, the world has begun to see the reality of an insurgency driven by faith. And the West had its eyes rudely opened on 11 September 2001, and has been busy fighting its own insurgent wars, causing far more civilian casualties than the Indian state has in Kashmir. They have allies who aid the most brutal and beastly terrorists. Those who lectured, and hectored India in the past are not in a position to tell India what to do. The joint Gulf-Arab resolve to snap diplomatic ties with Qatar is the latest episode in this ever-evolving saga.
Kashmir is non-negotiable. Discussing it in drawing rooms or international conferences, or diplomatic meetings, makes no difference. Public spectacles in Kashmir are largely confined to three districts, many inspired by fear of the insurgents’ gun, rather than a belief in the slogans venting the air.
India should treat the issue for what it is, like Russia treats Crimea, un-negotiable. So, when the Turkish leader raised Kashmir, India should’ve repeated the ‘K’ word, Kurdistan. In 2017 India has the spine and mandate to do just that.
Despite international pressure, the belligerent approach of the Army in Kashmir remained unchanged
Programme Co-ordinator, Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society
Since 1947, the Indian Army is the only institution which has been consistently used in Jammu and Kashmir, as the sole policy instrument of the Indian state. It has been engaged in almost daily operations to control the civilians and fight armed insurgents.
In this protracted conflict of 27 years, more than 70,000 people have died, around 8,000 have disappeared, over 100,000 have been tortured physically, and there are more than 6,700 unmarked graves. Torture has been used indiscriminately to create fear, humiliation and control.
These human rights violations are not aberrations by individuals in the Army, because not a single soldier has been ever prosecuted for abuse in a civilian court, despite credible evidence in police investigations and magisterial or judicial inquiries. As a result of the lack of accountability, there is complete hopelessness among the Kashmiris in Indian institutions, including the judiciary.
Due to international pressure, India repeatedly has said that Kashmir is a bilateral dispute between India and Pakistan, but on ground, the belligerent approach of the Army remained unchanged.
The young, born and raised in these violent times, feel agitated by the conduct of the Indian Army and the media glorification of the same. The failure of past dialogues has infuriated them. Through their slogans and protests, they are expressing their impatience.
It is obvious that in this charged atmosphere the increased dependence on the Army will only add to the human rights violations. But it is unlikely to deter the youth in their demand for self-determination. The excessive use of fear has ironically diluted the impact of fear among the youth.
Indian Army is not doing in Kashmir what Pakistani Army does in that country’s tribal belt and Balochistan
KANWAL SIBAL’s counter to AAKAR PATEL
To say that India’s Army, like Pakistan’s, is supreme on matters of ‘national interest’ defies common sense. Our army has not ruled the country, does not control key foreign relations or India’s nuclear policies. It does not promote terrorism against other countries.
If the Army was getting a free pass in Kashmir it would do what the Pakistani Army does in the country’s tribal belt and Balochistan – use of air force, tanks and artillery against civilians, and depopulating entire villages to allow military operations.
The Army is constitutionally controlled by the central government, not state governments. Specifically in the Pathribal case the Supreme Court had asked the Army to decide whether to court martial the accused or have them tried in a civilian court, but from this to conclude that Article 7 of AFSPA could allow trial by Army personnel in civilian courts routinely is absurd. In any case, Indian Army personnel, including officers, have been punished for human rights violations.
In practice no army can function in violence-prone situations fearing that their acts will expose them to criminal charges and prolonged trial in civilian courts. Who will guarantee that frivolous charges are not brought against them to frustrate them in Kashmir?
No parallel exists between the case of Kulbhushan Jadhav and the Indian Army’s conduct in Kashmir. In Jadhav’s case Pakistan has violated the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations. Is it the argument of the author that those victimised in Kashmir by the Indian Army are Pakistani nationals eligible for protection under this Convention? How is cutting off internet access that inflicts no violence but helps curb it worse than what Pakistan and China do on their own territories against the insurgents?
His attack on Army is motivated by his belligerence towards the last instrument of the state
MANVENDRA SINGH’S counter to KHURRAM PARVEZ
By his grossly simplistic, and selective, approach to the Army’s deployment in counter-insurgency operations in Jammu & Kashmir, Khurram Parvez only exposes his prejudices, ignorance. “…not a single soldier has been ever prosecuted for abuse in a civilian court…”, he decides, ignorant of the fact that military courts adjudicate and deliver justice on a far faster scale than civil courts.
“…the belligerent approach of the Army remained unchanged…”, is another motivated gem. When natural disasters strike the Army is not regarded as belligerent, i.e., the great Kashmir flood. His attack on the Army is motivated by his belligerence toward the last instrument of the state. He seems to forget, or chooses to ignore, that the most outstanding counter-insurgency agency is today the Jammu & Kashmir Police.