Responsibility to protect lives

Harsha Kakar
It has been over two months since the Government abrogated sections of Article 370 and changed the status of J and K. To ensure that there is no loss of lives because of violence perpetrated by fake news and instigation, the Government initially imposed curfew and blocked all communication. It also placed under preventive detention those who are masters at instigating violence, including political leaders.
With passage of time, as the local public understood the ramifications of the decision, protests and violence reduced, the Government removed most restrictions. Mobile connectivity and internet restrictions continue. In the Jammu region, all political leaders, who were initially detained, have been freed.
The reason for continued restrictions on mobile and internet was preventing inducted terrorists from contacting their handlers and instigation of youth by fake news and videos from Pakistan. The same would also be lifted with time.
Reports flowing from the valley have indicated that all essential services are functioning satisfactorily, traffic jams have recommenced, indicating that the situation is almost normal. While the media is free to visit the region, curbs on communication remain. Current media protests demand lifting of communication restrictions.
However, commentaries mainly in some western and few select Indian media outlets continue to paint a grim picture of arrests of minors, torture and clampdowns indicating a curfew like condition. Claims of torture have been officially denied yet are being projected without proof.
Most such commentators claim to have interviewed concerned individuals directly and spoken to locals. Few media houses have bothered to interview the millions who support the Government view and realise that they had been exploited by past State Governments and hoped for a change in governance and development. This is because of the basic media principle that ‘bad news is more exciting than good news.’
Fake media reports even led to court cases being filed. An example is the filing of a case in the Supreme Court by child activists Enakshi Ganguly and Shanta Sinha claiming illegal detention of hundreds of minors since 05 Aug. The apex court directed the Juvenile Justice Committee of the J and K High Court to ‘ascertain facts and revert.’ In its reply the Juvenile Justice committee stated that 144 minors were arrested since 05 Aug, of which 142 have been released, while two remain in juvenile homes.
Few commentaries have mentioned the truth stating that there is an internal curfew in the valley which is being forcefully imposed by Pak supported terrorists, over ground workers, separatist backers and valley political party workers, seeking to present a wrong picture of the region for their own gains. In different regions, there are different groups forcing a shutdown.
These groups threaten shopkeepers from opening premises, apple orchard owners from doing business and parents from sending children to school. Most fail to mention that shops open before or after normal working hours and do brisk business. This is indicated by the fact that there are no shortages and the fresh produce available,on roads in cities, across the valley, has been brought from outside the state.
Kashmir has witnessed bandhs and violence for many years. At the drop of a hat, the Hurriyat would shut down the valley for days. In 2016, post the elimination of Burhan Wani, there was a complete clampdown for over 3 months and not a single voice was raised against it, either within or from across the border. The reason was that the state was racked by violence, which suited those who are objecting presently. The violence led to over 70 dead and thousands injured, including security force personnel by stone throwing. However, even in 2016, despite a three-month clampdown, there was not one death due to starvation caused by closure of the valley. This was because of multiple reasons.
Firstly, everything becomes normal across the region as soon as media personnel move out.Locals of Srinagar admitted in private that they were aware of timings of violence and hence stayed indoors during that period. Post that, they ventured into parks and gardens surrounding Dal lake, knowing there would be peace.Shops opened early morning and late evening and, in many cases, operated from rear entrances.
Secondly, as stated in an article by Abhijit Iyer-Mitra, Kashmiris have learnt to cope with such situations. Schools publish advertisements in local newspapers asking parents to collect assignments and submit earlier ones, ensuring students don’t suffer.This implies that local newspapers which carry these advertisements are published and distributed. The state Government, aware of such situations, resorts to mass promotions in schools. It had done so in 2016. Thirdly, experience of the volatile situation in the valley has taughtlocals to maintain stocks for prolonged durations.
Violence continues in some regions, mainly Soura and Anchar localities of Srinagar, some parts of Shopian and Pulwama. These areas are profoundly influenced by the Hurriyat and Pak propaganda. It was expected and police response prepared accordingly. There have been casualties due to the use of pellet guns. However, levels of violence have been controlled to the extent that there has not been a single case of use of live ammunition, as against 2010 and 2016. Journalists only visit these areas, ignoring the rest of the valley, where normalcy has returned, adhering to the same media principle.
In every region of the globe, whenever there is violence there would be a security force response, Kashmir is no exception. In recent times, Hong Kong is a prime example, where every type of retaliation has been resorted to, including live ammunition, yet violence continues unabated. Iraq is an example of heavy violence and equally heavy retaliation; a situation security forces seek to avoid in the valley. Limited levels of violence, as prevalent in Kashmir, should not be taken as the valley burning and be predicted by some, including Imran Khan, as possible genocide. Simultaneously, placing some restrictions prevents violence and hence is akin to preventive medicine and should be accepted.
While some quarters state that as soon as mobile and internet connectivity is lifted there would be intense violence and mass deaths. At the same time, they claim that mobile and internet communication are essential rights. However, they appear to gloss over two most important responsibilities of the state,the ‘right to life’ and ‘Responsibility to Protect (R2P)’.
Paragraph 138 of the 2005 World Summit Outcome Document of the UN on ‘R2P’ states, ‘Each individual State has the responsibility to protect its populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. This responsibility entails the prevention of such crimes, including their incitement, through appropriate and necessary means. The international community should, as appropriate, encourage and help States to exercise this responsibility.’
Thus, if the Government acts under ‘R2P’ to prevent loss of lives by unnecessary violence, it is protecting the common public from crimes against humanity. If it needs to do itby denying certain requisites, then it is a justifiable act and should be supported globally. Some international agencies or governments criticizing these actions, including few US senators, should spare time and read the R2P document.Prevention is always better than cure.
Denials have been put into place to protect lives and not to punish the local population. Violence, leading to loss of innocent lives would result in the state being blamed for use of excessive force and crimes against humanity. This may be the design of Pakistan, however, should not be the intention of Indian political commentators and leaders from developed nations. Security forces learn from experience and amend their response accordingly. The actions taken this time are based on lessons drawn from 2010 and 2016.
Those who accuse the state of imposing restrictions need to realise that restrictions, imposed for a limited duration, have saved lives rather than squandered them. It may have created hardships for the present but has simultaneously secured human lives. Evidently, such an action islegally mandated under R2P to prevent what many international figures, including Imran Khan, claim could result in a genocide.
The author is Major General (Retd)