Avoid War Hysteria

From South Asians for Human Rights (SAHR) network

Dated: 05-01-2009

 

There are times like the present, when truth must be told to powers, however, unpalatable it may be, and however one may be viciously misunderstood. But nevertheless speaking has to be done because in times like this, to keep silent is a sin and to speak is a duty.

 

There was justifiable anger, anguish at Mumbai Terrorist attack; and indignation at Pakistan government refusing to even acknowledge that terrorists came from Pakistan added to serious Indo-Pak tension. The instant denial by Pakistan that its territory had been used by LeT connected terrorists could, though regretful would have been allowed to pass. One could understand Pakistan denying that ISI had any hand in it – but to have gone to the shameful length of suggesting that Mumbai attack was a ‘ploy of India’ or was stage managed by India government not only by those in government, but even in media & disappointingly even by some of those who have been part of third track group, was indeed shocking and hurtful to friends of Pakistan in India.

 

Similarly the reaction of sober Indian government ministers openly suggesting that India was prepared to take any options, (impliedly even war) so egged on by media and rival political establishment was certainly regretful and not a sign of mature statesmanship.

 

The situation has got further heated up by the irresponsible and provocative suggestion of BJP President Raj Nath Singh that India could consider the option of military blockade of Karachi and Indian Government should take international community into confidence and persuade the launch of joint military action under UN Security supervision against the terrorists in Pakistan.  The provocative speech of the BJP President has been allowed to quietly pass off not only by the party but even the media at large, because somehow an atmosphere is being created where to call for restraint and dealing with sanity Indo-Pak relations is considered anti-patriotic. 

 

Equally irresponsible and provocative and no doubt instigated by unworthy consideration of political one man up ship was statements by Digvijay Singh, General Secretary of the Congress and Jaiswal, Minister of State for Home, who both boasted publicly that Mumbai terrorists had demanded the release of the hostages but the Government of India had rejected it, unlike yielding by the BJP Government in the Kandhar episode.  But soon thereafter they had to eat their own words because neither the Maharashtra Government nor the Central Government accepted its truthfulness.  The irresponsible and shamelessness of such provocative remarks, specially by Jaiswal, Minister of State for Home in the Central Government ( who is expected to know better provided of course if he is attending to his job) taking an indefensible plea of relying on non existent media story, beats all limits.

 

Similar unfortunate and indefensible attitude was reflected in the public stand of Pakistan President, the Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister, who instead of accepting the obvious proof of Pakistan territory having been used by the terrorists, chose to deny it and raising war cries instead. And this inspite of U.S.A. media saying that FBI has accepted the conclusion of Indian authorities that Mumbai Massacre shows the involvement of Laskar, its leaders Lakhvi and Zarar Shah, who are based in Pakistan. It would be understandable if Pakistan government was to deny the involvement of I.S.I. (India may have felt saying “tell that to marines”; but could have lived with these normal diplomatic cover ups). But Pakistan must at least accept that what it describes as non actors (including Kasab, the terrorist held by India) are from Pakistan. This will immediately reduce the mutual tension and one upmanship by India and Pakistan. The further question whether these terrorists in Pakistan should be handed over to U.S.A. (because amongst killed were USA nationals) or to India or Pakistan will try them itself are though important but still secondary question. This approach by both the countries would have immediately dispelled the clouds of danger of war. But sad that both the countries are willing to hold closed door conferences with U.S.A. but not even official open business like meetings with each other. This is cliff hanging game and puts both the countries in danger of becoming surrogates of U.S.A. Imperialist design.

 

Unfortunately saner counsel in India in coming under pressure by the nearness of General Elections to the Parliament which are to be held by May at the latest.  I feel that if further downward slide in Indo – Pak relations is to be avoided it is essential that General Elections be held, if possible, in February but the latest by the first week of April.  I say this because it is now commonly accepted that because of the nearness of the General Elections, parties otherwise sober become the victims of “vote bank politics” as pointed out by our Prime Minister in his recent Bhim Sen Sachar Memorial lecture in December, 2008 – in fact the Prime Minister has commendably made it absolutely clear “that there was never a question of war, but only of terrorism”. Should not President Zardari, Nawaz Shariff reciprocate the agony of India and help to defuse the warlike tension being builtup in India and Pakistan, and horror of horror, both countries may become victims of unintended war like the First World War started, just because some mischief maker shot down the Prince of Austria.

 

However it is somewhat of a relief to know the welcome news that India and Pakistan, only a few days back exchanged a list of their nuclear facilities – a further reiteration of President Zardari speech that Indo – Pak dialogue can ease tensions shows recognition of stark truth that military confrontation can have disastrous consequences for the region.

 

I feel that both government should immediately allow TV, Radio channels to operate freely in both the countries. The people at large should know that apart from hawkish governments posture, there are innumerable seasoned sensible leaders, organizations in both countries who do not approve of their respective governments stand. Overwhelming number in both the countries realize the disastrous consequence of Indo – Pak war. Let this silent majority be allowed to interact with each other – may be in a little short time people to people contact between the two countries be allowed as of before – because this alone will act as impregnable shield against the vagaries and moods of hawks in both the countries.

 

Rajindar Sachar

New Delhi, India

Ajmal Kasab must have his rights protected

Press Release, January 9, 2009

 

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan regrets that one of the perpetrators of Mumbai carnage is confirmed as a Pakistani, but commends the government of Pakistan of facing this unpleasant reality. Denial would only have eroded credibility of the government and soured relationships between the two countries possibly leading to war. At the same time, the HRCP urges the government of Pakistan to extend counselor access to Ajmal Kasab and to arrange proper legal defense to him. It is the right of every individual to have counselor access and to have proper legal assistance, regardless of the accusation against the detained person. HRCP will contact human rights organizations in India to ensure that Ajmal Kasab has legal defense as well as a fair and transparent trial.

 

Asma Jahangir

Chairperson

CSOs’ Joint Statement

A large group of civil society organisations and concerned citizens of Pakistan have called upon the governments of India and Pakistan both to resist any temptation of violating one another’s territorial integrity. These organizations have demanded that both governments must give priority to: elimination of poverty, provision of food, shelter and jobs to all, ensure security of life and guarantee essentials such as water, gas, electricity and social services. As for terrorism it will be overcome by better understanding and constructive action rather than confrontation between states. The government of Pakistan must no longer stay in a state of self-denial. India too must bear in mind that militant groups and extremists thrive in a state of conflict and polarization. Both governments must sincerely redouble their efforts at addressing the rise of militant groups in the region. This may well be done through the composite dialogue that must be resumed forthwith. At the same time, the joint statement urges the Pakistan government not to miss the opportunity of devising an effective strategy to overcome the menace of terrorism that is posing a greater threat to this country than any other nation.

A joint statement issued by the CSOs says:

We condemn the recent terrorist attack on Mumbai and extend our heartfelt condolence and sympathy to the victim families. Likewise, we condole and sympathize with the victims of terrorism in Delhi, Kabul, Swat, other parts of NWFP and FATA. Pakistan’s civil society is alarmed at the loss of life, denial of education to girls and large-scale displacement of civilians in FATA and Swat. The militant groups are acting without any effective challenge by the government. Regrettably, there appears to be a total absence of a cohesive policy by the government of Pakistan to protect its own citizens or any strategy to challenge militant outfits that operate with impunity within and outside the country.

We regret that the media in both India and Pakistan failed to present the Mumbai outrage in a proper context and, instead, used the event to fuel hostility between the two countries. It aided warmongers on both sides to whip up a war hysteria. Quite ironically, terrorism, which should have brought India and Pakistan together to defend peace and people’s security, pushed them to the brink of a mutually destructive war. Confrontation between these two closest neighbours has never had such a puerile basis.

Mercifully, the tension between India and Pakistan seems to have abated somewhat and this is some relief. But the danger of an armed conflict persists and we call upon both the governments not to take peace for granted. Better understanding and constructive action rather than confrontation between states will discourage militant groups that are growing in strength in both countries. The government of Pakistan must no longer stay in a state of self-denial. It must not miss the opportunity of devising an effective strategy to overcome the menace of terrorism that is posing a greater threat to this country than any other nation. India too must bear in mind that militant groups and extremists thrive in a state of conflict and polarization. Both governments must sincerely redouble their efforts at addressing the rise of militant groups in the region. They need to quickly compose their differences over ways of dealing with terrorism. This could be done through the composite dialogue that must resume forthwith because neither country can bear the cost of keeping defence forces on alert and suspension of normal peacetime duties.

We should also like to caution the government of Pakistan against lapsing into its traditional complacency with the disappearance of the war clouds. Blinking at the existence of terrorist outfits within the country, some open and others disguised, will amount to self-annihilation and greater isolation from the comity of nations. The state’s commitment to root out terrorist groups must be total. It must ensure, as far as possible, that Pakistan is not even accused of allowing cross-border terrorism by any group, alien or indigenous. But everything must be done within the canons of law and justice. Killing of innocents and extra-legal excesses will not end terrorism. They will only fuel it.

Islamabad must also repudiate the suggestion that its firmness in the ongoing standoff with India has contributed to national cohesion, revived the Kashmir issue, and enriched the national coffers. Nobody can forget the cost paid by the country for unity behind Yahya Khan in his war on fellow Pakistanis, for the financial windfall during Zia’s agency for the Afghan war, and for the ‘revival’ of the Kashmir issue through adventurism is Kargil. The hazards of living in a make-believe environment are all too clear.

Success neither in the fight against terrorism nor in defending the nation’s integrity can be guaranteed by arms alone. The way to end the abuse of belief for politics or for terrorism, there being little difference between the two, is going to be long and hard. The task cannot be accomplished without the whole-hearted support of a fully informed and wide-awake society. The returns on investment in people’s food security, education, shelter, health cover, creation of adequately rewarding employment for both men and women and ensuring regular supply of water, gas, petrol and electric power will be infinitely higher than on resources expended on guns and explosives. This can be best achieved through regional cooperation and trade liberalisation.

It is these pre-requisites to national unity, solidarity, and survival that we urge the state to address and the people shall not fail it. Pakistan can beat off all challenges but only through people’s fully mobilized power.

HRCP welcomes withdrawal of cases against Pakistanis jailed in India

Press Release, December 24

 

LAHORE: The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) has welcomed the recent withdrawal of cases by India against 51 Pakistani prisoners at a time of tensions between the two countries.

 

In a statement issued on Wednesday, the Commission said: “The decision by India to drop cases against 51 Pakistani prisoners in Jodhpur Prison and the order to release them can only be welcomed. The gesture is even more appreciable than usual since it comes at a time when sanity is at a heavy discount on both sides and jingoism and war hysteria is being whipped up.

 

The 51 people charged with visa irregularities have already suffered enough for their mistakes. The HRCP urges the governments of India and Pakistan to not defer co-operation in such cases of humanitarian nature. Extending goodwill to each country’s prisoners in the other’s jails could be critical to promoting peaceful bilateral relations.

 

Both countries must also take urgent steps to ensure that the travel agents responsible for furnishing improper or tampered visas to visitors between the two countries are brought to justice and the illegal practice stopped.”

 

Dr Mehdi Hassan

Vice-Chairperson

Peace activists disturbed over Kashmir violence

Press Release, August 26

 

Peace activists disturbed over Kashmir violence

 

A meeting held by leading human rights activists at Lahore on 26th August, 2008, expressed serious concerns at the developments taking place in Srinagar and Jummu. The participants denounced the arrest of Kashmiri leaders Mr. Yasin Malik, Mir waiz Umar Farooq and Syed Ali Gilani. They called for their immediate release. In addition the participant endorsed the Washington Declaration signed by peace activists concerned with the region. They called upon South Asian human rights activists to play a role in reaching reconciliation and rights in the region.

 

The participants unanimously endorsed the following.

  1. That the people of Jammu and Kashmir are central to the India-Pakistan peace process and representative dialogue and affirms that a sustainable and just solution of the Kashmir dispute can be achieved only through democratically established procedures for ascertaining the will of the people of the state  (as existing on 14/15 August 1947).
  2. That, in the context of the Prime Minister of India, Dr Manmohan Singh’s pledge for zero tolerance of human rights abuses, an independent and credible investigative commission should be set up to probe human rights abuses including the issue of mass graves recently discovered in the state.
  3. That the pace of India-Pakistan dialogue, particularly in relation to Jammu and Kashmir should be accelerated and given a realistic time frame. The dialogue should be inclusive and Kashmiris should be an integral part of this process.
  4. Urges that more Kashmir specific confidence buildings measures should be adopted, which will help in conquering fear and creating a congenial environment for a positive forward movement.
  5. Demand that all political prisoners languishing in jails, interrogation centres and detained under emergency laws should be immediately released.
  6. Demand that all draconian laws should be withdrawn and peoples’ fundamental freedoms and basic rights should be restored.
  7. Urges that all those elements who have tried to vitiate and communalize the state’s polity need to be identified and punished. While welcoming the withdrawal of the order to transfer land to the Shri Amarnath Shrine Board, the conference condemns all efforts to communalize the situation.
  8. Demands that all internally and externally displaced people of Jammu and Kashmir, including Kashmiri Pandits, should be facilitated to return to their homes in safety and dignity.

 

Dr. Mubashir Hasan

Mr. I.A. Rehman

Asma Jahangir

Iqbal Haider

Salima Hashmi

Dr. Mehdi Hasan

Mr. Hassain Naqi

Hina Jilani

Zohra Yousaf

Shahtaj Qizilbash

Kamran Arif

Farooq Tariq

Nadeem Anthony

Munizae Jahangir