While writing this column I am just back from participating at the 21st session of UN Human Rights Council at the United Nations in Geneva. It was during British rule, that Urdu poet Dr. Mohammad Iqbal addressed his painful message on behalf of the suffering people of Kashmir, to wind, and asked it to carry it to League of Nations (now United Nations) in Geneva.
It is quite different today. Times have changed and three Kashmiris from Jammu and Kashmir (J&K), Azad Kashmir (AJK) and Gilgit and Baltistan appear at the UN and tell their respective tales at times to other non Kashmiris and in some cases carry with them a domestic audience and share the grief amongst themselves. There could be no difference of opinion on taking a common position on the abuse of human rights in general and right of self-determination in particular in any administration of Jammu and Kashmir or in any part of the world. But by promoting a culture of bringing your own bottle (BYOB) in the manner of carrying a domestic audience to listen to you in one of the rooms at the UN may hurt the cause of Kashmir. The ritual and the proxy defeat the purpose of building a listening international non Kashmiri constituency on Kashmir.
The human rights question in Jammu and Kashmir (Valley) was first raised at the UN in Geneva when JKCHR reported the first killing of 8/9 January 1990 to the UN on 10 January 1990 and on 6 July 1990 attended a meeting at the UN to substantiate the claim. The second serious and pro Kashmiri effort was made jointly by JKCHR and FIDH (International Federation of Human Rights) in August 1993. FIDH was founded in 1922, and is the oldest international human rights organization in the world. It operates in over 100 countries and Amnesty International was its affiliate at one point.
In August 1993 JKCHR, FIDH and WSV (World Society of Victimology) sponsored and presented a female witness from the Valley (Mrs. Shamim Ahmad Shawl) at the 45th session of UN Sub Commission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities in Geneva. Our audience was the international audience and the practice to build in little pieces a sympathetic constituency of international audience has continued in one or the other shape.
There is no doubt that we do not have one single opinion or a single story to tell on Kashmir today. There are three variables from the three administrations and each has a substantive merit in telling his or her tale according to its capacity, support and understanding of the case and character of work at the UN. However, what is likely to hurt all the three story tellers, is the new trend to use a proxy of domestic audience and turn the UN premises into a day to day routine political meeting that Kashmiris and Pakistanis (Indians rarely) are used to have in UK or an any other part of Europe at a weekend to console our political itch or act as a reflex of an instruction.
It was very encouraging to see Mirwaiz Dr. Umar Farooq at the United Nations in Geneva. He is lovable, humble and always out with a smile. It was even more encouraging to see that ICHR (International Council for Human Rights) formerly titled as KCHR (Kashmir Council for Human Rights) launched a comprehensive report on the situation in Jammu and Kashmir. I need to express my gratitude to Barrister A Majeed Tramboo for inviting me to the launch of this report and I cut short my participation at the Afghanistan briefing and attended the ICHR launch of report. Shaukat Ali Kashmiri chairman UKPNP also cut short his stay at the Afghanistan briefing and accompanied me to ICHR report launch.
As stated earlier, defence of human rights and the Kashmir case remains an article of faith with every conscientious Kashmiri. Kashmiris have sympathizers in India, Pakistan and all over the world. The danger on the premises of UN is that our leaders in politics may be misdirecting themselves in regard to their responsibilities at these forums. It is the duty of civil society leaders, in particular of those who represent a UN mandate under ECOSOC to guide the political leaders and other opinions in the right direction.
Kashmir has suffered in all manner for its proxy in politics, militancy and diplomacy. It seems that we have not yet had the time to descend to the point of common tragedy, victimization, hunger, unemployment and helplessness in the valley in particular and are not yet prepared to open up to listen to the other two opinions emerging from AJK and Gilgit and Baltistan. One would have loved to see an elaborate inter-action and an inclusive schedule for Mirwaiz. He should have written, spoken or informed every opinion of Kashmir present in Geneva of his arrival and how best they could assist him in the common cause.
There could be hardly a State subject or a non State subject who would refuse to assist any Kashmiri political leader in the presentation of his or her case at the UN in Geneva. The leaders have to be conscious that they are coming as representatives of all Kashmiris and should not make the mistake of dwarfing themselves for the pocket sizes of a host/or hosts. They need to be seen bigger than the pocket size of the host and larger than life to appear impressive, convincing and genuine. Therefore, there is no justification for a leader of the stature of Mirwaiz to be seen lumbered with two or three Kashmiri regulars and one non Kashmiri in the Serpentine Bar at Palais des Nations or to be found hooked to a situation which embeds dissension and difference among Kashmiris.
It does not add up to anything credible and substantive, if our leaders speak on Peace in South Asia, India-Pakistan dialogue and the tragedy of their people in Kashmir at the UN in Geneva and are in practice seen humbling themselves in pieces and factions. One would be intrigued to ask a common question that if our leaders in politics, in particular, Mirwaiz who is lucky to be able to travel, fails to travel beyond the size of his host and the number of a domestic audience, he stands morally answerable here and back home in the valley in particular.
It would be very unfortunate if the travel of Mirwaiz and the activities of his host/or hosts lose merit and degenerate into a self-serving non productive ritual. If we are engaged in a struggle for the equality and self-determination of the people of Kashmir, we dont need to travel length and breadth of South Asia but have a duty to look around and among our own ranks for a basic minimum. One would be right to say that Syed Ali Shah Geelani had the courage to annoy General Musharraf, in his own manner, and unless other leaders in Kashmir dont have the courage to say no to any non Kashmiri script, meant to keep Kashmiris divided and weak, it would be a proxy politics, likely to hurt the people of Kashmir and their case.
It is equally the duty of civil society leaders in Geneva to ensure that the substantive merits of Kashmir case remain supreme and we dont run riot in degenerating the Kashmir debate to a point that we turn into a laughing stock. ECOSOC mandate has to be used in the best interests of our people and should not turn into rat race of booking rooms for addressing a domestic audience. Leaders travelling from Kashmir should keep themselves in an honourable piece.
Author is Secretary General JKCHR, NGO in Special Consultative Status with the United Nations. He can be contacted at [email protected]
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