Rights abuses by security forces add fuel to Kashmir conflict

The Kashmir conflict is linked to two aspects as far as India is concerned: one relates to India’s relationship with the civil society in the Valley and the other relates to its relationship with Pakistan, a stake holder.

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On both counts, the record of former Prime Minister Vajpayee (1999-2004) was creditable. Despite the 1998 turbulence created by the nuclear blasts by the two countries, Vajpayee managed to create a friendly atmosphere with the two main stake holders.

He projected a humane approach with the Kashmiri civil society and was skilful with Pakistan, which witnessed rapid political changes during his time. His peace overtures with then President Parvez Musharraf was promising though ultimately unsuccessful.

The record of Vajpayee’s successors has been controversial. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s tenure (2004-14) constituted a ‘lost decade’ given his tragic failure to follow up on Vajpayee’s peace initiative with Pakistan.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s tenure (2014 onwards) has raised more questions than answers as of now on both fronts.

Another factor related to Kashmir conflict is the rise in the number of human rights violations in the state, especially in the Valley by security forces.

Two recent developments need to be mentioned in this connection.

On September 8 2015, The Hindu newspaper carried a report of an army court martial awarding life sentence to six army personnel, including a colonel and a captain.

They were found guilty in the Machil fake encounter that occurred on April 30 2010 in Kupwara district. This is the first time army personnel were punished for human rights violations in the Valley.

Three innocent youths from Baramulla district were lured to Machil by some intermediaries with offer of jobs and handed over to the army personnel who promptly executed them at point blank range on the false ground that they were ‘Pakistani terrorists’.

The motive behind the killings was to gain official recognition and rewards.

The immunity from prosecution provided to army personnel in ‘disturbed areas’ under the Armed Forces (Special Protection) Act (AFSPA) 1958, however, was not available to these army personnel.

The Valley has witnessed a shrill campaign for the removal of the AFSPA but nothing has happened.

On September 9, the Hindu published excerpts from a joint report for the UN prepared on the basis of information obtained under India’s Right to Information Act 2005.

Titled ‘Structures of Violence: The Indian State in Jammu and Kashmir’, the report was prepared by the International People’s Tribunal on Human Rights and Justice in Indian-administered Kashmir and the Association of Parents of Displaced Persons.

The report exposed ‘institutionalised impunity’ that exists in Kashmir and documented 333 cases of torture, extra-judicial killings, sexual violence and enforced disappearances in the Valley. It identified 972 alleged perpetrators in uniform.

Off the record, an Intelligence Bureau (IB) official said he would himself carry out such killings if ordered to do so by his superior to secure a promotion in the job.

The report is highly embarrassing for the Government of India. Hence, efforts would be made to defame the two agencies responsible for the publication of the report.

The central government’s ministry of external affairs said: “We interact with the UN panel.”

The matter may not end there.

A number of unexplained extra-judicial executions by security forces have occurred in the Valley mainly due to the immunity from prosecution provided by AFSPA to army personnel involved in such cases.

This law provides enormous powers even to non-commissioned army officers to shoot, kill, arrest and enter premises.

It prohibits prosecution of any official implementing the law in any area declared as ‘disturbed’.

The Justice Jeevan Reddy Committee, 2005 had described AFSPA as “… a symbol of oppression and an instrument of high-handedness and discrimination’ and recommended its abolition.

But no action has followed perhaps owing to pressure from the Indian army, which refuses to work in conflict zones without the protection provided by this law which has encouraged extra-judicial executions by the security forces with impunity.

Correspondent Vasundhara Sirnate Sirnate, who filed the second report, also notes that a new vocabulary of conflict has come into existence in Kashmir with terms such as ‘crackdown’ (a cordon and search operation); ‘half widow’ (a woman  who does not know if her husband is alive or dead); ‘encounter’ (an ambush to kill a person in ‘crossfire’); ‘paani parade’ (water boarding); ‘unmarked grave’ (grave of a ‘foreign terrorist’ killed in an encounter with security forces) and so on.

The IB official said cash awards and other honours given away to army personnel vary based on the grade (A, B or C) of the militant killed. The cash reward ranged between Rs 20,000 and Rs 500,000.

Counterinsurgency procedures in Kashmir are dubious. Combatants are said to direct their actions against not only other combatants but also ordinary civilians.

Regular government forces set up private militias (‘Ikhwanis’) and fund them to identify militants who are potential victims in such operations.

Counterinsurgency operations could be strategic without any concern for collateral damage or they could be motivated by an effort to extend a unique brand of Indian nationalism romanticized by the public.

However, such operations have only created disaffected populations. No attention is paid to the resulting social trauma.

The character of the Indian state is established by the techniques used for physical and psychological domination of the people.

The right to exist on the part of a ‘disappeared’ or ‘encountered’ person is denied and his data expunged from the official record. The victim is placed outside the confines of the law and ceases to exist as a person.

The architecture of such oppression is designed to ‘break the spine of Kashmiri society’ in order to end militancy as reported by an officer. The disproportionate violence against a necessarily less well-armed violence is not noticed.

Civil society actors in Kashmir perceive that a fair justice delivery mechanism does not exist.

They seek to internationalise the Kashmir problem and to confront the Indian state with the demand for official explanations.

A sustained dialogue on the AFSPA is called for. The AFSPA allows the army in ‘disturbed areas’ to effectively create ‘an entirely separate state within India, a sort of shadow nation that functions as a military state rather than as an electoral democracy’.

The government of India cannot minimise the significance of the report cited in The Hindu.

Amarjit Singh Dulat, former chief of the Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW) of the government of India with impressive experience in the Kashmir alley, has recently advised the adoption of the ‘strategy and tactics’ of unremitting dialogue with all stake holders including those with militant sympathies.

(The writer was Director General of Police in Northeast India. He was Director of the Research and Policy Division of the Ministry of Home Affairs, government of India. He is the author of ‘State, Policy and Conflicts in Northeast India, Routledge, forthcoming).

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