India has worked assiduously in global forums, including at the United Nations, to urge the isolation of Pakistan for allegedly generating terrorism, and has succeeded to some level despite China backing Pakistan for strategic reasons. But the recently released first report by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) on Kashmir took India by surprise.
The June 14 report covering both sides of the India-Pakistan Line of Control (LoC) focuses mainly on serious violations in Jammu and Kashmir between July 2016 and April this year, alleging that some 145 civilians were killed by security forces and up to 20 civilians killed by armed groups. But Pakistan-based terrorist organizations such as Lashkar-e-Toiba, Jamaat-ud-Dawa and Hizbul Mujahideem were mischievously referred to as “civilians” and “armed groups.”
It also refers to Pakistan-administered Kashmir, or what India terms as “Pakistan Occupied Kashmir” (PoK), as “Azad Kashmir” despite a 1949 UN resolution on Kashmir acknowledging accession of the entire state of Jammu Kashmir to India, and asking Pakistan to withdraw its forces from PoK before its demand for plebiscite could be acted upon.
The issue of holding a plebiscite on Kashmir’s future was killed by Pakistan, since it did not abide by the UN directive to withdraw its forces from the portion of Kashmir it administers and had drastically altered the demography of the region by bringing in large numbers of settlers from the plains. Even the proportion of Shiites in the Gilgit-Baltistan area has been brought down from 70% to 50% in recent years.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein has denounced the lack of prosecutions of Indian forces in Jammu and Kashmir and the failure to repeal the Armed Forces Special Powers Act as the cause for the critical report. Yet India has an active National Human Rights Commission, where any violation of human rights is investigated and prosecuted. Zeid called for an inquiry by the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC), which opened a three-week session in Geneva on June 18, and the investigation of “mass graves.”
India on June 14 rejected the OHCHR report, terming it “fallacious, tendentious and motivated,” questioning the intent in bringing out a selective compilation of largely unverified information to build a false narrative, violating India’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. It also slammed the report for terming UN-proscribed terrorist entities as “armed groups” and terrorists as “leaders,” and the undermining of UN-led consensus on zero tolerance to terrorism.
The galling part is that references in the report to Pakistan and the parts of Kashmir that it administers are almost perfunctory. No figures are mentioned as in the case of India. There is also no mention of Balochistan, where there are reports of systemic persecution of the local population. There is no mention of Pakistan’s support to terror groups, recognized by the UN and several countries for more than a decade. The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) periodically mentions Pakistan-based terrorist groups undertaking attacks in Afghanistan.
It stands to reason that a UN report on Kashmir should have named Pakistan-based terrorist groups attacking targets in Jammu and Kashmir. But the report doesn’t even mention extrajudicial killings and unconstitutional Pakistani military courts operating in Gilgit-Baltistan. The OHCHR report possibly also aimed at deflecting attention from Pakistan being “gray-listed” by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF).
On July 17, the UNHRC dismissed India’s criticism of the June report, also denying that contents of the report were influenced by Zafar Bangash, a Canada-based imam of Pakistani descent. But Bangash has admitted that he was in constant touch with Zeid, who was behind the report. There are credible reports that he had lobbied the OHCHR.
It is significant to note that while India had slammed the OHCHR report released on June 14, the UNHRC dismissed India’s criticism more than a month later. The Council issued its denials after the exposé by Bangash. Obviously the UNHRC is now trying to save its credibility against charges of biased reporting and protecting Pakistan while vilifying India.
The report goes against the basic facts of history, and the UN’s historical position that has recognized the instrument of accession. The core problem in the Kashmir conflict is Pakistan’s refusal to accept a fact of history. By ignoring Pakistan’s role in both parts of Kashmir, the UNHRC and its commissioner have harmed their credibility irreparably.