New Delhi: Providing a foretaste of the drama that will likely play out before the United Nations General Assembly later this month, the escalating war of words between India and Pakistan over Kashmir produced on Wednesday a first for the two countries in a UN forum: an India reference to the deteriorating human rights situation in Pakistan’s restive province of Balochistan.
Exercising his right of reply at the UN Human Rights Council twice in one day in response to Pakistani statements on the situation in Kashmir, the Indian representative brought the ‘B’ word into play in his very second sentence:
Pakistan has once again sought to mask its territorial ambitions and use of terrorism as a state policy under the garb of concern for human rights. This is a country, which has systematically abused and violated the human rights of its own citizens, including in Balochistan, as well as of the people of Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir. While advocating restraint to others, it has no hesitation in using air power against its own people.
Responding for a second time to Pakistan’s charges, India raised Balochistan again:
Pakistan has alleged human rights violations in India. Our credentials as a peaceful, democratic, pluralistic society that is deeply committed to the welfare of its people are well established. On the contrary, Pakistan is characterised by authoritarianism, absence of democratic norms and widespread human rights violations across the country including Balochistan. The institutions of governance in Pakistan have corroded to such an extent that it has become a hub for the global export of terror.
The venue was the 33rd regular session of the HRC in Geneva, where the Kashmir issue was ironically first brought on stage not by Pakistan but by the UN Human Rights Commissioner Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein in his opening address on September 13:
Two months ago, I requested the agreement of the Governments of India and Pakistan to invite teams from my Office to visit both sides of the line of control: in other words the India-Administered Jammu and Kashmir and Pakistan-Administered Kashmir. We had previously received reports, and still continue to do so, claiming the Indian authorities had used force excessively against the civilian population under its administration. We furthermore received conflicting narratives from the two sides as to the cause for the confrontations and the reported large numbers of people killed and wounded. I believe an independent, impartial and international mission is now needed crucially and that it should be given free and complete access to establish an objective assessment of the claims made by the two sides. I received last Friday a letter from the Government of Pakistan formally inviting an OHCHR team to the Pakistani side of the line of control, but in tandem with a mission to the Indian side. I have yet to receive a formal letter from the Government of India. I therefore request here and publicly, from the two Governments, access that is unconditional to both sides of the line of control.
India took exception to this reference, with its permanent representative to the UN in Geneva, Ajit Kumar questioning the equivalence Zeid tried to draw between the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir and those parts of the state which were under the “illegal occupation” of Pakistan:
We have noted the reference in the High Commissioner’s statement to the situation in the Indian State of Jammu and Kashmir. The whole State of Jammu and Kashmir is an integral part of India. Pakistan remains in illegal occupation of apart of our territory. The two cannot and should not be equated. The neutrality of the phrase “Indian Administered Kashmir” is, therefore, artificial. Furthermore, the State of Jammu and Kashmir has an elected democratic government that represents all sections of the people unlike the situation in Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir.
After attacking Pakistan for having “choreographed” from across the border the current violence in Kashmir and stating that “India’s robust democratic institutions and processes have sufficient tools for redressal of grievances and are already engaged with this issue across the entire democratic political spectrum”, Kumar questioned the wisdom of the HRC and its high commissioner getting involved. “The protection and promotion of human rights on a sustained basis can be best achieved through constructive dialogue and cooperation,” he said, adding that national governments “are the primary bearers of responsibility in this regard; countries often have unique national circumstances, and it is important to invest trust in their efforts.”
Kumar also took a potshot at the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. While India appreciates Zeid’s efforts to make the work of his office more efficient and streamlined, he said, “we remain concerned at persisting ambiguities in OHCHR governance and administrative arrangements.”
If the language here was restrained, there was no holding back when it came to dealing with Pakistan’s statement before the HRC on the human rights situation in Jammu and Kashmir.
In his first right of reply, the Indian representative said “the heart of the matter is that we are dealing with a state that regards the use of terrorism as a legitimate instrument of statecraft. The world watches with concern as the consequences of Pakistan’s actions have spread beyond its immediate neighbour. All of us stand prepared to help, if only the creators of this monster wake up to the dangers of what they have done to themselves.”
Taking the floor for the second time, India said:
We strongly reject Pakistan’s continued misuse of the Council to make tendentious references about internal matters pertaining to the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir…It will be in the fitness of things if instead of ritually raking up alleged human rights violations elsewhere, Pakistan were to focus its energies on improving human rights situation within Pakistan and Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir. It must also take action against the perpetrators of terrorist attacks on its neighbours who are roaming freely in Pakistan with impunity, so that terrorism emanating from Pakistan – the gravest risk for peace and stability of the region – could be addressed effectively.
This is, incidentally, not the first time India and Pakistan have clashed in Geneva this year. In June, during the 32nd regular session, the two sides traded charges on Jammu and Kashmir.
During the UN General Assembly sessions which will begin in New York later this month, the Pakistani prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, is expected to square off against Indian external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj.