Kashmir issue: the Norwegian link

By K.N. Pandita

About a year ago, a Kashmiri Pandit organization named Roots in Kashmir filed a petition with the Supreme Court supplicating for reopening of the subject of ethnic cleansing and violation of human rights of the displaced community. The Supreme Court turned down the petition asserting that it was a twenty-five-year-old issue and culling out the evidence would be an uphill task. However, only some weeks ago, the Supreme Court, while adjudicating the case of Sikh genocide of 1984, gave life imprisonment to one of the culprits. The Supreme Court is also hearing the five hundred year-old Ramjanam Bhumi-Babri Masjid dispute.

The dichotomy in meting out equitable justice to the aggrieved party in an almost identical case, nay actually more recent than the Sikh genocide tragedy, has become a mystery for the displaced community. Reacting to the selective approach of the Supreme Court, various Pandit organizations in Jammu including one with global reach have, during the past two weeks or more, come out publicly with the demand that their case of ethnic cleansing, genocide, extirpation from their homeland, forcible occupation of their immovable properties and vandalizing of their shrines and temples is reopened by the authorities and justice is done to them. Some of them even expect that after the 1984 riots verdict, the Supreme Court of India should, on moral grounds, take suo moto cognizance of the genocide and ethnic cleansing in 1990 that has led to the decimation of the five-thousand-year-old Shaivite civilization of the indigenous community of Kashmiri Pandits. This act of obliteration of a community directly contravenes the fundamental principle of the United Nations that indigenous communities anywhere on the globe have to be provided full protection for survival and perpetuation of their traditions.

The displaced community has other reasons as well to invoke the law of the land, the constitutional propriety of the state and the conscience of the Indian civil society to what gross injustice and atrocities have been perpetrated particularly on the basis of their religious beliefs and traditions.

Sometimes back the Chairman of the UN Human Rights Council, after he visited Kashmir, produced a report for the Council on the status of alleged human rights violations in the strife-torn Kashmir. Sadly, his knowledge of Kashmir turmoil begins with the killing of a militant called Burhan Wane and ends with the few killings taken place more recently as a result of cross firing during encounters between the security forces and the externally supported militants. The Pandit community is fully aware of how this report was manipulated and who the manipulators were. This notwithstanding, their complaint is that the Chairman advertently excluded from his travel itinerary the plight of the displaced community, the genocide and the ethnic cleansing and other atrocities to which they were subjected in Kashmir on the basis of their faith. Whether his account of alleged violations of the rights of Kashmirian civil society is true or not is not the subject of discussion right now. But willfully ignoring their plight and gross violation of their human rights by the Chairman of the UN Human Rights Council puts a big question mark on his impartiality and integrity. It is for the Human Rights Council to decide the essential pre-requisites for a person to be its head.

thMore recently, Mr Kjell Magne Bondevik, Founder and Chief of Oslo Centre for Peace and Human Rights also visited Kashmir. He is the two-time former Prime Minister of Norway, a country reputed for its commendable contribution to the United Nations’ peace programme and conflict resolution process. In Srinagar, he was reported to have met with the pro-Pakistan accession leaders meaning both factions of the Hurriyat plus the JKLF (Kashmir) chief. He is also reported to have met with the Bar Association of Kashmir and the Chamber of Commerce, both known for their advocacy of Kashmir militancy. After concluding his visit to the valley, Mr. Bondevik travelled to Muzaffarabad where he is reported to have interacted with PoK leaders and particularly with Salahu’d Din, the Chairman of United Jihad Council and the chief commander of Hizbul Mujahedeen, the main armed group fighting the security forces in Kashmir Valley. Additionally, Mr. Bondevik is reported to have visited the LoC on the side of PoK where he must have been shown the sites where shells may have fallen when there are cross-LoC firing and shelling.

There are some hints indicating that the visit of this distinguished human rights activist has had the green signal from both the countries for helping negotiate a solution of Kashmir tangle. Though Bondevik declined that he was on a mediation mission yet recalling the modality of negotiating a peace deal between the Sri Lankan Government and the LTTE which he had conducted painstakingly, we need to give him credit for undertaking an arduous mission. If he is able to forge an equitable deal between the two antagonistic neighbours it will be a landmark event in the history of the subcontinent.

However, we have certain reservations in the context of Mr Bondevik’s Kashmir visit. Essentially, we expect him to be meticulously impartial and unbiased if he wants to reach the core of the problem. Let me list the reservations succinctly. There are some fundamentals of Kashmir issue which cannot be overlooked or underestimated when negotiations are initiated. Kashmir is not only the valley but three regions diverse in everything. There has been an armed insurgency in Kashmir sponsored, abetted and supported by Pakistan. The armed insurgency has led to the genocide and extirpation of a minuscule Hindu minority of the Valley. In early 1990 when religion-based extremist insurgency raised its head in Kashmir the elected government of the State and the Union both failed to provide them with the protection of life and honour. Mr Bondevik did not find it necessary to meet with the representatives of the other two regions or the displaced community numbering nearly half a million, with most of them living in refugee camps. While he found time to visit the LoC on PoK side he did not have time to visit any of the camps of the internally displaced persons or those displaced from the Indian side of the LoC owing to firing and shelling by Pakistani border forces. The scenario eloquently reflects Mr. Bondevik’s own words, “Religion like patriotism is easy to misuse for political purposes.”

The displaced Pandit community strongly upholds the importance of eschewing violence while trying to find a solution to the Kashmir riddle. It is so not only because the members of Kashmir religious minority have suffered wanton killings and ethnic cleansing but also because the Oslo Centre’s basics speak of peace, democracy and human rights. We have also noted that the separatist leader Mirwaiz Umar Farooq of the Hurriyat Conference is seeking “outside help to resolve” an issue which has exactly sprung from his almost identical urge for “outside help” in 1990 and thereafter. He feels proud when Pakistan says that it will extend full help to him and the movement he is leading in Kashmir.

Mr Bondevik claims he has identified the people of Kashmir as the “third party to the dispute”. In the first place, the correct nomenclature would be India, Pakistan and the people of Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh regions. Secondly, by using the term “people of Kashmir’” the renowned Norwegian human rights activists has – hopefully unintentionally – excluded the entire segment of about half a million indigenous community of Kashmiri Pandits (Hindus) now living as Internally Displaced Persons outside Kashmir for last twenty-nine years. Neither the State government nor the local civil society, and not any humanitarian agency has taken up their case of extirpation from their homeland and of bringing them back to safe and secure environs. This is tantamount to rubbing salt into their wounds. As such, any deal with the Kashmir majority only and to the exclusion of the indigenous religious minority of Kashmiri Pandits will be a fractured one and not tenable in the eyes of international law and the Charter of Human Rights of the UN.

We have also taken note of Mr Bondevik’s reference to UN Resolutions on Kashmir. We believe that he is fully aware of the causes that made these resolutions defunct and meaningless. These resolutions have become defunct for two reasons. One is that Pakistan failed to fulfill the obligation of pulling out all of its forces and fighting personnel from the part of Kashmir under its illegal occupation, and the second is that according to the Charter of the UN, when two warring countries mutually sign a peace agreement (Shimla Agreement in present case) all resolutions of the UN become redundant. Essentially, the fault lies with the Security Council which has tried to treat an aggressor and an aggressed on an even keel.

Put in simple and forthright idiom, the crux of Kashmir dispute is that Pakistan failed in grabbing Kashmir militarily way back in 1947- 48, and is now trying to take recourse to the double strategy of fomenting armed insurgency on the one hand and asking for peace talks on the other, strangely through institutions that are of highest repute like the one in Oslo which Mr Bondevik is heading.

The displaced Pandits have reacted to this entire scenario. Their global Diaspora has become pro-active and intends to move the matter at all important international platforms beginning with the UNHRC and western parliaments to garner support from the world communities that ardently believe in democracy and human rights. Its objective is to get the world body’s recognition of their ethnic cleansing and genocide. It is satisfying to note that the sane and matured leadership of the displaced community has risen to the occasion so much so that even a legislator, too, has, for the first time, passionately demanded that the case is opened for meting out justice to the victimized religious minority.

I would like to conclude this write-up with one more quote from the distinguished human rights activist from Norway, which will be very apt and very true only if the word Palestine is replaced with “Kashmiris”, viz. “The burden of proof is now on the Palestinians (read Kashmiris) … They must fight terrorism and dismantle its infrastructures in order to make possible progress on the roadmap.”
(The writer is the former Director of the Centre of Central Asian Studies, Kashmir University).

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