Written By: Sylvie Lasserre
Three days after the attack on an Indian military base in Uri on September 18, 2016, the Indian media reported the arrest of two Pakistani school children living in a village within an hour's walk from the Line of Control (LoC), which they had inadvertently crossed, having lost their way. During this attack, 17 soldiers were killed as well as the three militants. India, of course, immediately accused Pakistan, who rejected the claim saying: "No sane individual can suggest that Mujahideen carried out this attack to damage the Kashmiri cause”.
Yet, reassuring news for the families of the teenagers came out as, according to the Hindustan Times, an Indian daily, it was a mistake and the two 16 years old boys, Ahsan Khursheed and Faisal Hussain Awan, were expected to be repatriated the following day: "After careful investigation, we established that the boys said the truth and had no criminal intent," an official, under cover of anonymity, confessed to the famous daily.
However, the teenagers did not reappear, and a few days later, the Indian media were radically changing the story: sixteen-year-old boys became 19-year-old men who, after interrogation, reportedly guided the terrorists, although the teenagers were arrested on September 21, which was three days after the Uri attack. One knows what interrogations can be in Jammu and Kashmir... One had to accuse Pakistan, these teenagers were “perfect” to constitute the missing "proof".
Indeed, strangely, the Uri attack occurred just four days before Nawaz Sharif’s speech at the United Nations General Assembly on September 22. When one wants to kill his dog, one says that he is rabid. In fact, this is what happened: the Indian delegation to the General Assembly of the United Nations represented by the Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj, Modi being absent, brandished Uri attack as "the worst attack on human rights" to justify the violence and atrocities committed in Jammu and Kashmir.
Despite the curfew, the Kashmiris regularly go out on the street, braving the Indian security forces which do not hesitate to fire. Since July, more than a hundred civilians have been killed, about ten thousand wounded, several hundreds of whom have lost their eyesight due to the pellet shots of the Indian Army, including women and children.
According to a Pakistani security report, some extracts of which were reported by the Pakistani newspaper The News, "The attack was deliberately designed and carried out by some sections of the Indian security establishment, in order to deflect perceived pressure at the UN over the Kashmir uprising". And indeed, the recent uprisings in Kashmir are totally indigenous and are conducted by a new generation of Kashmiris who have risen up against the occupation of India and demand freedom. Burhan Wani is their symbol.
Moreover, the Indian government seemed so annoyed at the perspective of its atrocities in Jammu and Kashmir appearing under the spot light at the General Assembly of the United Nations that it used illegal means to silence the human rights defenders who were to talk at the 33rd UN Human Rights Council in Geneva: On the morning of September 14, Khurram Parvez, a well-known Kashmiri human rights defender, was detained at Delhi Airport and prevented from taking his flight to Geneva. "I was stopped at the immigration desk. I told them that there was no charge against me and that therefore they could not prevent me from leaving the territory. But they replied that they knew nothing more and only carried out the orders," deplored Khurram Parvez. The following day, September 15, he was arrested at his home without charge and released two and a half months later: "They detained me illegally for 76 days before releasing me, thanks to international pressure and the decision of the High Court of Justice of Jammu and Kashmir, which stated that my arrest was illegal," said the human rights activist, who is also president of the Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances (AFAD), adding that “they were also about to arrest Parvez Imroz and Kartik Murukutla, two human rights lawyers who were travelling to Geneva as well, but on another flight. An administrative error went in their favour and they were able to take their flight and deliver their report". In fact, India had to prevent them at any cost from denouncing the atrocities committed by the Indian Army on the civilian population of Jammu and Kashmir.
Human rights abuses by the Indian Army are recurrent in Jammu and Kashmir. The population, which claims its right to self-determination, lives in perpetual fear of the army, especially since the turmoil of the summer of 2016 following the death of Burhan Wani, the young and adulated commander of Hizb-ul-Mujaheedin, killed on July 8, 2016 by Indian security forces. Here, everybody is convinced that the 22-year-old militant was murdered – as the witnesses testify – and not killed in a fight as the army claims.
On the day of the funeral, an impressive human tide, nearly 200,000 angry people, some waving the Pakistani banner, participated in the burial of Burhan Wani whose body was wrapped in the Pakistani flag although they were in Kashmir administered by India. In fact, there, some people dream of becoming a part of Pakistan. On July 15, as protest movements rumbled in the valley, the Indian state imposed a curfew that lasted 79 days. Mobile networks and the internet were also paralyzed.
Despite the curfew, the Kashmiris regularly go out on the street, braving the Indian security forces which do not hesitate to fire. Since July, more than a hundred civilians have been killed, about ten thousand wounded, several hundreds of whom have lost their eyesight due to the pellet shots of the Indian Army, including women and children. Raids in villages, arbitrary and illegal detentions, enforced disappearances, acts of torture against civilians succeed one another in the valley. Testimonies of the brutality of soldiers abound, such as this one, for example: "First the electricity was cut off, then the soldiers began to attack our house, they beat us, including my ten-year-old niece," told a man to Agence France-Presse (AFP) from his hospital bed. "During the raid, the army and the Special Operations Group (SOG) men entered the houses, ransacked supplies and beat the occupants, injuring a dozen people, including women and children. The soldiers also took some 30 young people with them to their camp where they were beaten," said the residents of a village where the lifeless body of a 30-year-old school teacher, Shabir Ahmad Mangoo, beaten to death, was found in the streets on the morning of a raid. It should be noted that the number of soldiers deployed in Jammu and Kashmir is over 700,000, which is one soldier for about 15 civilians, making it the most militarized region in the world.
How far will the greatest "democracy" in the world go in order to continue its abuses against the population without grabbing the attention of the international community? If it could hinder Khurram Parvez, who is an Indian citizen, India could not prevent Nawaz Sharif, the Prime Minister of Pakistan, from attending the 33rd United Nations General Assembly, where he devoted half his speech to the violation of human rights in Jammu and Kashmir: "On behalf of the Kashmiri people; on behalf of the mothers, wives, sisters, and fathers of the innocent Kashmiri children, women and men who have been killed, blinded and injured; on behalf of the Pakistani nation, I demand an independent inquiry into the extra-judicial killings, and a UN fact finding mission to investigate brutalities perpetrated by the Indian occupying forces, so that those guilty of these atrocities are punished".
After Uri attack followed what India calls "surgical strikes" against Pakistan, from the other side of the LoC, that have killed dozens of innocent civilians. In fact, many villagers, including children, were hit by the Indian soldiers. On October 24, 2 people including an infant were killed. On the 28th, three people, one woman and one girl were killed; on November 19, four teenagers; four days later, eight passengers on a bus were killed and nine injured and on December 16 a school bus was targeted leaving one child dead and four injured. The killings have continued ever since.
Today, more than four months after the abduction of Ahsan Khursheed and Faisal Hussain Awan, their families are extremely desperate and still without any news. However, a glimmer of hope is beginning to emerge since an official from the Indian National Investigation Agency (NIA) began to speak anonymously to the Indian press. According to him, there was no evidence of guilt at the end of January and he mentioned the possibility that the boys "may have been frightened or constrained when they gave their first testimony." By the end of January, a senior official of the Union Home Ministry told The Hindu, an Indian daily: “We will decide on the fate of the two Pakistani boys in a month. So far, there is no evidence of them having guided the terrorists to the Uri camp. We are still verifying the details and their antecedents”.
Meanwhile, the elder brother of Faisal Hussain Awan, Ghulam Mustafa Tabassum, who is a medical practioner working in Lahore, is multiplying the contacts in order to try to find some providential help and get the two boys freed. As a last chance, he has written to Narendra Modi, the Prime Minister of India. But there is still no news. Ghulam Mustafa Tabassum told Indian media that their mother could not sleep anymore, and that he had to tell her lies, like: the boys were fine, well treated and fed and kept in a juvenile centre and that he could talk to them on the phone from time to time. The truth is that they are trapped by the political game of India and that no news regarding them and their health has emerged.
As for now, brutalities and human rights violations against the Kashmiri population continue in Jammu and Kashmir, despite regular denunciations to the United Nations.
The writer is a renowned French journalist.