By Zafar Iqbal
Since decolonization of sub-continent, Kashmir has always been a central part of the string of most dangerous disputes of the world. Much has been reported by the media and academia about the human rights situation in Kashmir, but recent Amnesty International call for urgent action to probe existence of unmarked graves of disappeared persons in this region echoed Kashmir discourse to the corridors of power in the Westminster.
After suffering from over half century long turmoil, people of Kashmir expect that the West would pay similar attention to Kashmir conflict as it gives to contemporary resistance in the Arab world. Although, Indian rising economy, vast market of 1.21 billion people and robust trade and strategic partnership between India and UK; are few crucial factors which induce the later to turning a blind eye to human rights situation in Kashmir. But such alienation triggers the concerns of Muslim majority people of Kashmir who believe that the West has double standards over issues related to Muslim world.
Two major contestants of Kashmir conflict, Pakistan and India have been blaming each other for abuse of human rights in their respective controlled regions, however, ground realties prevailing in all three units of disputed State unquestionably held responsible both parties for exacerbating the human suffering in the region where poverty, unemployment, exploitation of natural resources, gross human rights violations are on the rise.
India and Pakistan have failed to address the grievances of local people suffered from some development projects aimed to extract and exploit natural resources from Kashmiri lands to benefit Indian and Pakistani populations. Campaigners’ complaint that besides abusing global environmental standards, rights of indigenous people are being brutally violated by Pakistani and Indian governments in some mega developmental projects being carried out in different regions in Kashmir,e.g. Diamer-Bhasha Dam (Gilgit Baltistan), Neelum Jhelum Hydropower Project and Mangla Upraising Power project( Pakistan Administrated Kashmir) and Kishanganga Project( Indian administered Kashmir).
Hundreds of unidentified graves – believed to contain victims of alleged Indian state torture – have been found in Indian Kashmir where over 100 people are killed in recent uprising which remained distant from militancy. Amnesty International charges India for detaining of up to 20,000 people without trial under Public Safety Act (PSA) which gives powers officials to detain citizens without trial for up to two years. Additionally, ban on international and cellular calls and SMS service prevails to curb free speech.
On other side of region which lies under Pakistani control, over half a million population in border region in picturesque Neelum Valley lives without any basic communication system due to monopoly of a telephone firm- run by Pakistani army. Such baloney sanctions are fuelling anti-Pakistan and India sentiments among locals. People are also furious over Pakistani regime for mishandling £300m international aid donated for the rebuilding of quake ridden region of Kashmir.
In Pakistani part of Kashmir dozens of political activists have been barred to join June 26, 2011 local elections under Article 7(2) of the Constituent which also suffocates free speech and fundamental human right of access to public jobs for those Kashmiris who don’t believe on the ideology of “the State’s accession to Pakistan.” Pakistan’s Ministry of Kashmir Affairs is publicly alleged for rigorous electoral rigging, misuse of power and promotion of political corruption.
Muzaffarabad, the capital of Pakistan Kashmir, has no powers in media licensing as Islamabad controls all press regulations. Local rules for registration for charitable trusts and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) also restrict campaigning for human rights issues.
In Pakistani Gilgit Baltistan political activists are frequently arrested over expressing resentment showed against the constitutional reforms, which annexed the region with Pakistan.
Pakistan’s policy on ‘war on terror’ is questionable when it comes tackling Islamic insurgents in Kashmir. Pakistan-based devout Islamists like Jamaat ud-dawah (JuD) are freely operational in Pakistani Kashmir. The JuD which is believed to be a strategic asset of Pakistan for waging proxy war in Kashmir can endanger temporary peace agreement between India and Pakistan.
Four Indian and Pakistani troopers have been killed in this month when militants, most likely from the Jud, tried to cross the Line of Control (LoC). But, three powerful anti -militants’ processions held in two weeks after the reorganisation of militants in Pakistani Kashmir, indicate public mood has changed for militants who are losing public support, which they gained after starting militancy against India in 1989.
Similarly, a profound support from local traders has been expressed for Intra-Kashmir, an initiative started as part of Indo-Pak Confidence Building Measures (CBMs). Sadly, lack of bank and communication facilities; presence of barter trade system and excessive use of bureaucratic procedures make these peace initiatives meaningless. Also, undue security checks imposed on traders and travellers increase the woes of divided families. Simple and user friendly travel and business arrangements must be developed to strengthen human and business interaction.
No doubt today’s Kashmir conflict is part of British imperialistic legacies, spread from Kashmir to Sri Lanka in South Asia and other inflammatory disputes like Kurdistan and Palestine in Middle East; and Somalia, Cyprus, Yemen and Sudan, etc. In the recent past British Prime Minister David Cameron, referring the Kashmir conflict, has already admitted that ‘Britain caused many of the world’s problems’. Now it is time for British leadership to correct their historical mistakes by protecting human rights and democracy in Kashmir.
(The writer is an expert on regional security issues and Executive Director of Press for Peace, a Pakistan Administered Jammu & Kashmir based human rights organisation. He could be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)