Bibhudatta Pradhan, Bloomberg
New Delhi: Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh pledged to “minimize” human rights violations in the Himalayan region of Kashmir, where a 17-year insurgency has claimed about 50,000 people.
“I would like to reiterate that our government is totally committed to upholding the dignity of the individual and the protection of basic human rights in Jammu and Kashmir,” Singh said yesterday at the end of a meeting of Indian government leaders and politicians from Kashmir, according to an e-mailed statement from the Prime Minister’s Office. “Very recently, we have again asked our security forces to ensure that their personnel carry out their difficult tasks in a humane manner.”
The security forces are often accused of fake encounters and torture in Kashmir, which is divided between India and neighbouring Pakistan and claimed in full by both. The Indian government denies any abuses, says it “promptly” investigates any reported cases of alleged human rights violation and “stringent punishment” is given to those found guilty.
Kashmir, at the heart of the dispute between the South Asian neighbors, was the cause of two of the three wars between them since independence in 1947 from British rule. India accuses Pakistan of backing the separatist groups and their terrorist activities. Pakistan denies the accusation, saying it only lends moral support to a freedom struggle.
Yesterday’s meeting was the third in a series that started in early 2006 aimed at resolving the problems of the people of Jammu and Kashmir, India’s only Muslim-majority state.
Some Kashmiri groups, including the All Party Hurriyat Conference, didn’t participate in the conference to avoid sharing the platform with mainstream political parities who don’t dispute the state’s accession to India. The Hurriyat didn’t attend the first two conferences either.
Five allegedly fake encounters between the security forces and separatists were reported in 2006 and one this year, the Indian government said on March 7 in parliament. A special investigation team has been constituted to look into the allegations and a judicial probe has also been announced, it said.
The prime minister also said any reduction of the army’s presence in Kashmir would depend on the scaling down of terrorist activities there.
“There is considerable inconvenience as well because of the prevailing security scenario,” Singh said. “But we will continue to take steps to ensure that the deployment of security forces is directly related to the scale of the problems on the ground.”
Singh said at the beginning of the meeting that his government will continue its engagement with Pakistan “sincerely” to improve relations and resolve pending issues.
“For this, it is essential to resolve our differences and overcome the trust deficit that has cast a shadow on our relations,” the prime minister said.
The South Asian nuclear-armed neighbors began improving ties in 2003 after coming close to a fourth war in 2002, pledging to engage in a “composite dialogue” aimed at ending all disputes, including Kashmir.
The two countries have restored diplomatic, sporting and transport ties since 2003. They started a fourth round of the so- called composite dialogue in March. The negotiations are designated as composite because they encompass talks on a range of issues that divide the nations, including Kashmir.
Prime Minister Singh was under pressure from Mufti Mohammed Sayeed, the leader of the People’s Democratic Party, to reduce troops. Singh’s ruling Indian National Congress party has a coalition with People’s Democratic Party in the state.
Sayeed, who also attended the meeting, said earlier this year that there was a general improvement in the situation and a decline in the infiltration of militants across the border. He said the gradual withdrawn of troops will send a positive signal to the people and give them a sense of security.
The Indian government in Mach set up a committee headed by Defense Minister A.K. Antony to study the reduction of security forces in the state.
The conference favored the increased movement of people and goods to the Pakistani-administered side of Kashmir and announced the setting up of two committees for the implementation of decisions in the state.
Singh said the government is working for the “blue print of a new future” for the state.