May 30, 2020
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What's The Problem?

If there have been human rights violations by Sri Lankan security forces, why should those responsible not be punished? And if there has been no violation, what is the fear?

What's The Problem?

The media is abuzz with the Catch 22 situation of the Indian government over the forthcoming US led UN Resolution alleging Human Rights (HR) abuses by Sri Lanka and asking for a probe. A union minister states that India is “against HR violation probe against a specific country”. Can you have a probe for HR abuse against a ‘region’ as an entity instead of a country? Our government’s intransigence towards our own nationals is well known, recent example being our hapless businessmen harassed for months in Yiwu, China.

It is this so- called policy of being “against HR violation probe against a specific country” that led our government to only protest and not ask for specific probe against Pakistan for the most heinous HR abuses during the Kargil conflict despite Pakistan being a signatory to relevant UN conventions in war. Captain Saurabh Kalia and five other soldiers who were captured by Pakistani forces on May 15, 1999 were brutally tortured for 22 long days before they were shot, and their mutilated corpses delivered to India. “The postmortem revealed that the Pakistan army had indulged in the most heinous acts; of burning their bodies with cigarettes, piercing ear-drums with hot rods, puncturing eyes before removing them, breaking most of the teeth and bones, chopping off various limbs and private organs of these soldiers besides inflicting all sorts of physical and mental tortures before shooting them dead, as evidenced by the bullet wound to the temple,” says an entry in Wikipedia. During the same conflict, Squadron Leader Ajay Ahuja, whose MiG was shot down over Indian soil on May 27, 1999, was used for target practice by Pakistani soldiers after he bailed out and opened his parachute. Yet our gutless mandarins in their cocooned offices in North and South Blocks never even proposed or asked for a UN probe, or even took up the issue with the UN, aside from routinely protesting to Pakistan.

In the immediate aftermath of the Sri Lankan Military’s defeat of LTTE, the media had reported that in the last stages of the battle hundreds of Tamil civilians who had been pushed into a restricted zone along with the LTTE hierarchy were not permitted to evacuate (possibly for fear of LTTE cadres slipping out with them) and were subjected to artillery and mortar fire. This was followed by photos of Prabhakaran’s shot up dead body. Later a video clip emerged showing LTTE cadres being shot in the head in cold blood with their hands tied behind their backs. All these raised an uproar in the West about HR abuse that has eventually led to the said UN Resolution. And, of course, the photo of Prabhakaran’s 12 year old son shot five times in the chest now circulating in the media only shows the nature of the brutality.

In this context, there has been some talk of how would we react vis-à-vis J&K. Are we worried about HR abuse allegations in J&K? And, if so, why? We have a National Human Rights Commission (NHRC); the Army has its own HR organization. HR watchdogs and NGOs come out with figures of every reported HR violation most of which are un-investigated allegations and do not differentiate between casualties in the same incident by terrorist fire. However, it should be noted that the NHRC statistics show that only 4-5% of allegations have proved true. The watchdogs closely monitor actions of soldiers but blatant and heinous acts of violence and transgression of HR by terrorists and militants are simply overlooked. The Army investigates each allegation jointly with police and civil representatives and awards exemplary punishment where culpability is established. That is the way it should be. So if there have been HR violations by Sri Lankan security forces, why should those responsible not be punished and why should it affect Indo-Sri Lanka relations if those guilty are punished? On the other hand, if there has been no violation, then what is the fear?

What is going to happen at the UN? In all probability China will veto any resolution that is not in favour of Sri Lanka. Did it not veto the UN resolution on Hafiz Saeed for terrorist attacks in India – proving it is in tacit support of Pakistan’s jihadi policy against India. As for HR abuses, China couldn’t care less as it already has many milestones to its credit; millions of Chinese killed during the Great Leap, violent suppression in Tiananmen Square during 1989, apprehension and disappearance of some 10,000 Uighurs from Xinjiang and the current ongoing suppressions in Tibet and Wukan regions.

Our more eloquent mandarins will scoff at the above saying everyone does not understand foreign policy— an euphuism to cover own inaction and inefficiencies. What devolution of powers to Tamils in Sri Lanka has our foreign policy achieved, if any, despite so many years and as envisaged in the 13th Amendment to its Constitution, enacted after the 1987 India-Sri Lanka Agreement? More importantly, where was our foreign policy hibernating when China got access to the deep water port of Hambantota in Sri Lanka and reportedly placed a company of PLA troops disguised as development workers there, even as Sri Lanka denied an official Chinese request to place regular troops in Hambantota?

Lack of strategic thought in Indian foreign policy had been bemoaned and articulated periodically by Late K. Subrahmanyam, the doyen of Indian strategic community. Louise Merrington wrote in 2010, “India feels that it wants to achieve great things, but can’t articulate exactly what these things are. This has led to a series of missed opportunities. These attitudes and outcomes have several roots, including a lack of cohesion within the foreign policy establishment, the overly bureaucratic and hierarchical structure of the Indian Foreign Service (IFS), and immaturity within the strategic policy sector…….This paralysis is exemplified by the fact that India has not produced any sort of document, such as a white paper, outlining its foreign policy goals.” No wonder, we are yet to define our national security strategy. More recently, Amy Kazmin quoted K Shankar Bajpai, Chairman of India’s National Security Advisory Board and former Ambassador to US in the Financial Times dated 9th Sep 2011: “The instruments of state action have become dysfunctional... India’s strategic interests extend between the Suez to Shanghai …. but we have neither the manpower nor the strategic thinking to handle these challenges”. What can be more depressing?

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