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Tense Indo-Pak Relations Result in Verbal Sparring at the UNHRC


After Pakistan’s law minister raised allegations of human rights abuses in Kashmir, India responded by raking up Pakistan’s record in Balochistan and Sindh.

India and Pakistan’s flags and the UNHCR meeting room in Geneva. Credit: Reuters

New Delhi: For the second consecutive year, India raked up Pakistan’s human rights record – in dealing with domestic insurgencies from Balochistan to Sindh – during a diplomatic spat at the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) on March 1. New Delhi pointed out that Islamabad is now being devoured by ‘monsters’ of its own creation.

As per the norm, the 34th session of the UNHRC began on February 27 with a high-level segment where Pakistan’s law minister Zahid Hamid set the ball rolling with his comments on the floor of UN’s human rights body.

The Indian claim that the deteriorating human rights situation in Jammu and Kashmir is an internal affair of India is factually incorrect, legally untenable and in violation of the UN Security Council  (UNSC) resolution,” Hamid said.

The Pakistani minister described India as the “occupying power” which is “brutalising” the Kashmiri people “so that they can give up their just struggle for the inherent right to self-determination”.

“This is a patently desperate attempt to divert the attention of the international community from the grave human rights violations being committed by Indian forces,” Hamid said, disputing India’s statement that the Kashmir issue is about cross-border terrorism.

Hamid called on the UNHRC and international community to remain “seized” of the “grave systematic violation of human rights and fundamental freedoms in Jammu and Kashmir”.

India’s right to reply to the minister’s statement was delivered by the Indian embassy’s counsellor (political), Alok Ranjan Jha, who advised Pakistan to focus its energies “on setting its own house in order” and “acting against perpetrators of terrorist attacks on its neighbours”.

He noted that while Jammu and Kashmir had a “robust institutional framework” in place to ensure rule of law and the protection of human rights, “the people of Pakistan as well as Pakistan Occupied Kashmir have become victims of sectarian conflict, terrorism and extreme economic hardship due to Pakistan’s authoritarian and discriminatory policies in complete disregard of human rights”.

Describing terrorism as the “grossest violation of human rights”, Jha underlined, “It is unfortunate that Pakistan’s trust in the methods of terror are so deep that it does not hesitate from using them on its own people in Baluchistan, Sindh, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa as well as the tribal areas in its northwest,” he said, adding that Pakistan had “no hesitation in using air power against its own people”.

Differences from last year’s statements

India had also raised the issue of Pakistan’s troubled province in Balochistan at the 33rd session of the UNHRC in September last year. While Balochistan and Sindh were mentioned in both India’s general statement and right to reply in 2016, they only figured once in the right to reply this year.

Another difference from last year was that there was no mention, by name, of Hafeez Saeed and Syed Salahuddin, though they were referenced indirectly in India’s right to reply. “In Pakistan, we are dealing with a state that regards the use of terrorism as a legitimate instrument of statecraft and provides sanctuary to UN-designated terrorists,” said Jha.

However, there was no reference this year to the Mumbai 26/11 attacks and the terror attacks against Indian military installations in Uri and Pathankot, which had occupied one paragraph in the India’s 2016 statement, delivered about six months ago.

India did obliquely refer to the string of suicide attacks in Pakistan, on Lahore’s mall road next to a major Sufi shrine in Sindh. “Pakistan has created terrorist outfits against India. This monster is now devouring its own creator,” said India’s permanent representative to the UN in Geneva, Ajit Kumar.

He said he found it ironical that a “nation that has established a well-earned reputation of being a global epicentre of terrorism holding forth on human rights”. “For the last two decades, the most wanted terrorists of the world have found succour and sustenance in Pakistan,” asserted Kumar.

On Jammu and Kashmir, he accused Pakistan of carrying out an “intense campaign” of destabilisation “by promoting infiltration and cross-border terrorism; inciting, promoting and glorifying violence and unrest in the Indian state; and raking up the matter through baseless allegations”.

Interestingly, in contrast to its remarks on the Kashmir unrest before the UNHRC in September last year, India gave more detailed information about how India had managed to bring the situation under control this year.

The senior Indian diplomat claimed that both the Centre and the state government led a “system-wide effort last year to restore normalcy in the wake of Pakistan-supported unrest”.

“The robust and mature Indian democracy proved once again that it has sufficiently strong and adequate mechanisms to redress any internal difficulties even if they are incited from outside,” he said.

Kumar specifically cited Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s announcement of a $12 billion package for Kashmir. “Normalcy has returned as 99% of the students of Jammu & Kashmir had taken their high school examinations and schools have reopened,” he added.

Pakistan also exercised its right to reply to Kumar’s statement, which reiterated the allegation of Indian human rights abuses in Kashmir.

Incidentally, Kashmir was conspicuously missing from United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein’s statement on February 27, even though it had been part of his opening statement at the previous UNHRC session in September 2016.

The UNHRC chief had formally asked for “unconditional access to both sides of the line of control” in Kashmir for an “independent, impartial and international assessment of the claims made by the two sides as to the cause for the confrontations and the reported large numbers of people killed and wounded.”

India formally turned down the UNHRC’s request after it was formally rejected at the all-party meeting on Kashmir held on August 12.

Indo-Pak relations outside Geneva

While India and Pakistan sparred in Geneva, India on Wednesday released 39 Pakistani prisoners in a reciprocal gesture after Pakistan freed 217 Indian fishermen in December.

Indian and Pakistan bilateral relations continue to be in a deep-freeze, even though there is an expectation in Islamabad that there could be a thaw after the assembly elections results are out in March 11.

Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif also brought up Kashmir in his concluding remarks at the ten-member Economic Cooperation Organisation summit in Islamabad on March 1.

“My government’s commitment to a peaceful neighbourhood has been repeatedly demonstrated. To this end, peaceful settlement of longstanding disputes, like Jammu and Kashmir and alleviating the sufferings of the Kashmiri people would greatly help in advancing the goals of stability and development of the entire region,” said Sharif.

However, the joint statement made no mention of the Kashmir issue, even as it specifically referred to the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict. The summit was attended by Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev, Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani, Tajik President Emomali Rahmon, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Kyrgyz Prime Minister Sooronbay Sharipovitch Jeenbekov



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