When India tries to silence people about the atrocities in Kashmir

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Tuesday, February 8th 2017

By @sylvielasserre

On the morning of 14 September, Khurram Parvez, a well-known Kashmiri human rights defender, was unaware that while going to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva he would be detained at Delhi Airport and prevented from taking his flight. « I was detained 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, » deplores Khurram Parvez. The following day, 15 September, he was arrested at his home without charge and released only two and a half months later: « They detained me illegally for 76 days before releasing me thanks to the 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).

It was as if they had to prevent him at all cost from denouncing the atrocities committed by the Indian army on the civilian population of Jammu and Kashmir at the 33rd session of the Human Rights Council of the United Nations. « They were also about to arrest Parvez Imroz and Kartik Murukutla, two human rights lawyers who were also traveling to Geneva, but by another flight than me. An administrative error went in their favor and they were able to take their flight, » says Khurram Parvez.

Human rights abuses by the Indian army are recurrent in Jammu and Kashmir. The population, which claims its right to self-determination, lives in the 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 8th of July 2016 by the 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 funerals, an impressive human tide, nearly 200,000 angry people, some waving the Pakistani banner, participate in the burial of Burhan Wani, whose body is wrapped in the Pakistani flag although we are in Kashmir administered by India. In fact, here, some people dream of belonging to Pakistan. On July 15, as protest movements rumble in the valley, the Indian state imposes a curfew that will last 79 days. Mobile networks and the internet are 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 sight, victims of the pellets shots of the 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 beated us, including my ten-year-old niece, » told a man to AFP from his hospital bed, or that one: « During the raid, the army and the SOG (Special Operations Group) men entered the houses, ransacked supplies and beated 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 schoolteacher, Shabir Ahmad Mangoo, beaten to death, was found on the morning of a raid. It should be noted that the number of soldiers deployed in Jammu and Kashmir is approaching 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 – too much – annoy the international community? If it could hinder Khurram Parvez, who is 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 the 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. »

Bizarrely, on September 18th, just four days before Nawaz Sharif’s speech at the United Nations General Assembly, a terrorist attack occurred against an Indian military base in Uri, near the LoC. 17 soldiers were killed as well as the three terrorists. India, of course, immediately accused Pakistan, which rejects:  » No sane individual can suggest that mujahideen carried out this attack to damage the Kashmiri cause.” Indeed, according to a Pakistani security report, some extracts of which are 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. »

Three days after the Uri attack, the Indian media reported the arrest of two schoolchildren living in a village within an hour’s walk of the LoC, which they had inadvertently crossed, having lost their way. According to the Hindustan Times, an Indian daily, this was a mistake and the two teenagers, Ahsan Khursheed and Faisal Hussain Awan, were expected to be repatriated the following day: « After careful investigation, we established that boys said the truth and had no criminal intent, » an official, under cover of anonymity, confessed to the famous daily.

Yet, teenagers still did not reappear, and, a few days later, the Indian medias are radically changing the story: sixteen-year-olds become 19-year-olds who, after interrogation, reportedly used to guide the terrorists. Although the teenagers were arrested on 21 September, which means three days after the Uri attack. One knows what interrogations can be in Jammu and Kashmir… One had to accuse Pakistan, weren’t these teenagers all found to constitute the missing « proof »?

When one wants to kill his dog, one says that he is rabid. Indeed, the Indian delegation to the General Assembly of the United Nations represented by the Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj, Modi being absent, brandishes the Uri attack and the terrorism as « the worst attack on Human rights » to justify the violence and atrocities committed in Jammu and Kashmir. Though, the recent uprisings in Kashmir are totally indigenous without any Pakistani intervention. This is a new generation of Kashmiris who rises up against the occupation of India and demands freedom whom Burhan Wani was the symbol.

Then followed what India calls « surgical strikes » against Pakistan, from the other side of the Line of Control (LoC). In fact, many villagers, including children, were hit by the Indian soldiers. On October 24, 2 people including one baby were killed. On the 28th, three people, one woman and one girl, on November 19th, four teenagers, four days later, eight passengers on a bus were killed, nine injured and on December 16th a school bus was targeted. 1 child died, four were injured, and so on.Today, more than four months after the abduction of the schoolboys, desperate families are still without any news of them.

However, a glimmer of hope is beginning to emerge since an official from the Indian National Investigation Agency (NIA) began anonymously to speak to the Indian press. According to him, there was still 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. »

As for now, brutalities and human rights violations against the Kashmiri population goes on in Jammu and Kashmir, despite regular denunciations to the United Nations.

Further reading : a report, by Physicians for Human Rights, on the killings and atrocities performed by the Indian Forces on the civil population of Kashmir : Blind to Justice: Excessive Use of Force and Attacks on Health Care in Jammu and Kashmir, India.

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Pakistan. Un balcon sur le Kashmir

Le parc national des Galyat, Nord Pakistan © Sylvie Lasserre

Nous sommes aux pieds de l’Himalaya, dans les Galyat, un parc naturel qui s’étend d’Abbottabad à Muree, une ville de villégiature au nord-est d’Islamabad. La forêt des Galyat est la plus vaste de la province de Khyber Pakhtunkwa.

Un chemin de montagne dont rêveraient tous les randonneurs : à flanc de montagne et… horizontal ! absolument horizontal sur quatre kilomètres, à 2500 mètres d’altitude, véritable balcon sur le somptueux Kashmir. En effet, ce chemin suit le parcours d’un pipeline d’eau, ce qui explique cette absence de tout dénivelé. Au loin les sommets enneigés du Kashmir.

Forêt luxuriante des Galyat au pied du chemin du pipeline © Sylvie Lasserre

La forêt luxuriante abonde de sombres conifères élancés. L’odeur délicieuse et tonifiante du cèdre déodar, les longues silhouettes des pins bleus, des ifs, des sapins argentés, des chênes et des maronniers.

Partant de Dunga Gali (2500 m), une petite ville proche de la célèbre et touristique Nathia Gali (2500 m), le chemin du pipeline, véritable balcon sur le Kashmir, serpente à 2500 mètres d’altitude à flanc de montagne pendant 4 kilomètres et mène au village d’Ayubia (2500 m). Il n’existe probablement pas d’équivalent dans le monde à ce chemin absolument horizontal. Edifié par les Britanniques au début du siècle dernier, il alimente en eau la petite ville d’Ayubia. 1100 hommes participèrent à sa construction qui dura sept années. Elle occasionna dix morts, ce que l’on imagine aisément tant les pentes sont abruptes et les coulées de neige nombreuses en hiver.

Toilette du matin pour ce « mina » (en urdu), j’ignore le nom en français. © Sylvie Lasserre

Deux policiers armés de Kalashnikov nous escortent pour notre sécurité car à cette époque le chemin est fermé aux visiteurs. Par endroits, d’épaisses plaques de neige barrent encore le passage. Adil, l’un des policiers, nous informe que la forêt est peuplée de  nombreux lions. Ces derniers sont préservés intentionnellement afin de protéger la forêt des trafiquants de bois, qui ont déjà coupé tant d’arbres, décimant les pentes du Nord Pakistan, notamment dans le Gilgit et le Baltistan. Le léopard des neiges vit ici également, et régulièrement attaque des femmes et des enfants, poussé par la faim vers les villages. On trouve aussi des renards des montagnes, des écureuils volants, des léopards d’Asie.

Ayubia, un balcon sur le Kashmir © Sylvie Lasserre

Récemment, nous raconte un policier, un étudiant de Peshawar s’est tué en chutant à la renverse dans le précipice alors qu’il posait pour une photo.

Arrivés à Ayubia nous emprunteons les télésièges qui nous emmènent au sommet à 2800 mètres d’altitude, avec vue imprenable sur les monts du Kashmir et d’Abbottabad.

Télésiège d’Ayubia, 2800 m © Sylvie Lasserre

Le long du trajet, de jeunes bergers chantent à l’attention des touristes (touristes pakistanais, car il n’y a guère plus de touristes étrangers ici), espérant récolter ainsi quelques pièces. Je regrette de n’avoir pas emporté de quoi les enregistrer tant leur voix était fraîche et merveilleuse.

Sur le bord du chemin, Nord Pakistan © Sylvie Lasserre

Alors que nous rentrons, des singes tenant leur nouveau-né se tiennent sur le bord de la sente. Une bande de perroquets alertés par notre approche s’élance dans les airs d’un vol élégant, émettant un chant joyeux. En contrebas, émergeant de l’immense frondaison, la clameur ininterrompue des oiseaux tropicaux qui célèbrent la nature et le printemps.

Un vol de perroquets, Nord Pakistan. © Sylvie Lasserre

Mon seul regret, la voix monotone d’Adil, le policier, qui chante en karaoké sur les paroles d’une musique hindi diffusée à plein volume sur son téléphone portable et couvre les chants d’oiseaux !

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