Kashmir hearing in Congress yields few surprises
By Khalid Hasan
WASHINGTON: The Kashmir hearing before a subcommittee of the House Committee on Government Reform Wednesday produced few surprises.
Of the eight witnesses summoned by the committee, two – Ms Attiya Inayatullah and Dr Ghulam Nabi Fai – presented the standard Pakistani/Pakistani-Kashmiri viewpoint, while the two US officials – Michael Kozak and Don Camp from the State Department – reiterated what the US considers an “even-handed” stand on the issue. One, T. Kumar of Amnesty International spoke from a strictly human rights point of view, sparing neither India, nor Pakistan nor the militants, while Bob Guida a state legislator from New Hampshire presented his by now well-established pro-Pakistan and pro-Kashmiri point of view. Selig Harrison, author and academic, took a strong position on Kashmir, holding Pakistan responsible for most of the ills and calling for the internationalisation of the Line of Control. Dr Gurmit Singh Aulakh of the Council of Khalistan used the hearing to present the case for Sikh separatism.
The timing of the hearing surprised the more astute of the India-Pakistan watchers here, since it is bound to strike a dissonant note in the current atmosphere of goodwill between the two countries where the usual rhetoric and mutual venom have been given a rest. “How is this hearing going to contribute to the generation of goodwill and trust that is necessary at the time, given the apparently sincere effort New Delhi and Islamabad are making to settle their long-standing differences, including Kashmir,” one Capitol Hill veteran asked.
Rep. Dan Burton, who is not counted here as exactly a friend of India or its Kashmir and Punjab policies, said, “The citizens of Kashmir appear to have been tragically victimized during this long-standing conflict, enduring a variety of brutal and sadistic forms of torture. The Kashmir conflict is an ongoing struggle that has brought the region to the brink of war, and is producing serious human rights violations. Now more than ever, the US and our allies must do everything we can to spread the ideals of freedom and democracy throughout the international community.” He said India claims to be the world’s largest democracy ns so its soldiers should be and must be held to a higher standard of conduct, yet India’s insistence on resolving a political problem by force has dragged it down into a campaign of “essentially lawless state terrorism.” He quoted form a number of international human rights reports and reports by the US government to reinforce his point. He said he was encouraged by the initial success of the India-Pakistan peace talks and it was his strong belief that any comprehensive peace agreement must pursue justice for decades on human rights abuses in the region.”
Rep. Gary L. Ackerman, a member of the India Caucus and a member of the committee, said in a prepared statement that while there has been human rights abuses in Indian-held Kashmir, India, it should be emphasised was a democratic country whose citizens had a right to change their government, more than what could be said of its neighbours, Pakistan and China. He said India was fighting an insurgency in Kashmir and it was a victim of terrorist attacks long before 9/11. It was also a nation of laws with a free judiciary and a human rights commission (during the discussion later it was pointed out that the Commission was not free to investigate into the conduct of Indian security services). He also called for a condemnation of the human rights abuses committed by the militants. He said the conditions for a plebiscite in Kashmir had not been fulfilled by Pakistan. Secondly, at Simla, the two countries had agreed to resolve the Kashmir problem bilaterally.
Selig Harrison, author of five books on South Asia, said in the last 50 years there never had been a more promising opportunity for peace in South Asia and for the reduction of tensions in Kashmir. The people there were trapped in the crossfire between India and Pakistan. War inevitably breeds human rights abuses and the only way to end them is to have India and Pakistan carry the peace process forward. Both countries had been guilty of human rights abuses in Kashmir. He said Pakistan encouraged the Kashmir insurgency in 1989 and India over-reacted as countries often do. Things had gone from bad to worse and the Kashmiri fighters had lost the leadership of the fighting in Kashmir to Pakistani, Afghan, Islamic extremist and other fighters “orchestrated by the ISI.” He said among the worst excesses committed by the Pakistan-backed groups in Kashmir was the “ethnic cleansing” of Hindus. Pakistan had also “systematically attempted to undermine or assassinate moderate Kashmiri leaders who have favoured a ceasefire with India and participation in state elections.” However, despite the “atmosphere of fear” promoted by Pakistan, 22 of the 27 Hurriyat leaders engaged in talks with LK Advani in March and another round is due next month. He said Pakistan must terminate ISI sponsorship of the insurgency and dismantle its infrastructure or the current peace process will break down. He suggested that the US should make clear that it views the Line of Control as the “eventual international boundary in Kashmir.”
New Hampshire legislator Robert J. Guida who has paid four visits to Azad Kashmir and met President Musharraf more than once told the hearing that the Kashmiri resistance to Indian repression if little different than the resistance of American colonists to British occupation during the American War of Independence, adding, “I assure you, however, that the British never committed such atrocities as are part of daily life in Kashmir.” He said the basic principle to be kept in view was that of self-determination. Referring to the American war dead at Arlington, he asked, “Does not the magnitude of their sacrifice compel us here today to advance the cause of human rights at every opportunity? If not us, who? And if not now, when?”
T Kumar of Amnesty International urged that human rights should be at the centre of all the discussion on Kashmir. India, he stressed, should release all prisoners of conscience, end human rights abuses, ensure that all abuses were promptly and independently investigated, and allow international human rights organisations to visit Jammu and Kashmir. Pakistan, he added, should allow freedom of expression and stop abuses under preventive detention. Collectively, both India and Pakistan should place human rights concerns at the centre of any attempt to resolve the Kashmir issue, respect international humanitarian law and ensure that the needs of the many tens of thousands of displaced people are met. He asked armed opposition groups to respect international humanitarian law that prohibits deliberate or indiscriminate attacks on civilians and those not taking part in hostilities, stop torture and killing of unarmed civilians and stop using anti-personnel weapons.
Ms Attiya Inayatullah, MNA, who flew especially from Pakistan for the hearing despite the death of her mother at the weekend, in a short and emotion speech described herself as a “daughter of Kashmir who yet breathes the air of freedom” and was appearing on behalf of three and a half million Kashmiri women who are trapped in a human emergency in Indian-held Kashmir. She said besides the massive presence of Indian military and paramilitary troops in Kashmir, there were 16 secret agencies operating there. There were 11 Indian soldiers for every square mile of Indian-held Kashmir. She called Kashmir the “living inferno of Dante and charged that since 1989, the Indian army had killed 87,648 Kashmiris and orphaned more than 105,000 children. Over 9,000 women had been raped. She said she was here in the land of Jefferson and Lincoln to seek “your assistance in protecting the life and the honour of Kashmiri people who live in the hope that with your assistance, the days of shame and nights of terror will see an early end.”
DR Ghulam Nabi Fai of the Kashmiri-American Council said India must repeal all of its draconian laws that violate human rights in Kashmir, release all political prisoners, provide relief and rehabilitation to all displaced persons and victims of war, create conditions that will enable the return all exiles and refugees since 1947, restore basic freedoms, allow freedom of movement in the entire state, both Azad Kashmir and Indian-administered, dismantle the fence it was building along the ceasefire line and provide facilities for an intra-Kashmiri dialogue. He said peace and justice in Kashmir are achievable only if pragmatic, realistic and tangible strategies are set in place to help create conditions for a Kashmir settlement. He cautioned that it was both untimely and harmful to indulge in controversies about the most desirable solution of the Kashmir problem. Any attempt to do so at this point amounts to playing into the hands of those who would prefer to maintain a status quo that is intolerable to the people of Kashmir. He said any future negotiations between India and Pakistan can be meaningful and successful only if all parties, namely the governments of India and Pakistan and Kashmiri leadership, announce a ceasefire that must be followed by negotiations. Negotiations should be initiated simultaneously at four levels: an intra-Kashmir dialogue between representatives of the Muslim and non-Muslim people of Kashmir, talks between the governments of India and Pakistan, talks between the Indian government and an extended Kashmiri leadership, and, finally, tripartite talks between India, Pakistan and the genuine leadership of the people of Jammu and Kashmir.