India, Pak to square off on Jammu and Kashmir in Geneva today
India and Pakistan are expected to square off on the issue of Kashmir at the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in Geneva on Tuesday, against the backdrop of international pressure on New Delhi to ease restrictions in Jammu and Kashmir.
Pakistan’s foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi left for Switzerland on Monday to represent his country at the 42nd session of the UNHRC. He tweeted that Pakistan will “speak definitively” at the session on alleged “atrocities in Kashmir”.
Qureshi will make a country statement at noon Geneva time that is expected to focus on the situation in Jammu and Kashmir following India’s decision on August 5 to revoke the state’s special status and reorganise it into two Union territories.
The Indian delegation will make its statement some hours later and will have the “right of reply”, people familiar with the developments said. The Indian side will be led by a secretary from the external affairs ministry and will include Ajay Bisaria, till recently the high commissioner in Islamabad.
India opted not to send a minister to Geneva as it didn’t want to give too much importance to Pakistan’s efforts to internationalise the Kashmir issue, the people said.
Pakistan has sought to do so since August 5 when India’s Parliament passed resolutions and laws to bifurcate the state of Jammu and Kashmir into two Union territories and scrapped provisions giving special status to the region. India also imposed restrictions on movement and communication in the region to ensure there is no violence.
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In her opening address at the UNHRC session on Monday, UN high commissioner for human rights Michelle Bachelet said she had appealed to India to “ease the current lockdowns” in Jammu and Kashmir, “ensure people’s access to basic services; and that all due process rights are respected for those who have been detained”.
She said her office was receiving reports on the human rights situation on both sides of the Line of Control and she was “deeply concerned about the impact of recent actions by the Government of India on the human rights of Kashmiris, including restrictions on internet communications and peaceful assembly, and the detention of local political leaders and activists”.
She urged the governments of India and Pakistan to ensure human rights are protected and said it is important for Kashmiris to be consulted in “decision-making processes that have an impact on their future”.
Her remarks were welcomed by Qureshi and Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan, who called on the UNHRC to set up an independent investigation commission to probe alleged rights abuses.
There was no immediate response to Bachelet’s remarks from Indian officials. People familiar with the developments said New Delhi will state its position through the Indian delegation’s statement at the UNHRC on Tuesday. “We will say what we have to say through the statement,” said a person who asked not to be named.
As a counter to Pakistan’s statement on Kashmir, the Indian side could raise the violation of human rights of Pakistan’s minorities, including the forced conversions of Hindus and Sikhs, and the rights situations in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan, which has witnessed attacks on the Shia minority, the people said.
India has made a sustained outreach to the 47 members of the UNHRC to obtain backing for its stance on Kashmir. This includes members from Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America and the Arab world, the people said. The outreach includes briefings in New Delhi for envoys and senior diplomats of UNHRC member states as well as key states that are not members of the UN panel but are seen as influential on rights issues, such as Norway.
Diplomats from several influential Western countries who spoke to HT on condition of anonymity said their nations accepted the changes in Jammu and Kashmir as an internal matter of India. However, they also said there was growing concern in their countries about the communications blackout and detention of politicians, businesspeople and activists.
These worries could be addressed by India by easing the restrictions, the diplomats said. India has eased some of the restrictions imposed on August 5 and said it will ease more as the situation stabilises.