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To hell with patriotism

4 Nov

“I don’t remember what happened, I fell down and someone was holding my neck in his feet, and the other guy kept beating and beating and beating”. This is what activist Asim Saeed had to say in an interview to the BBC about his illegal and unlawful detention by the powers-that-be. He was left in “shades of purple, blue and black”. Before you begin to throw out the labels we in Pakistan are so used to hurling at people we disagree with (“traitor”, “agent”, “blasphemer” – an ever-expanding list), take a minute and glance at our history. Not at the distorted history books we’re told are “facts” since we’re children; not at propaganda videos of the ISPR using children to tell you terrorists are scared of our young ones; take a long, hard look at what is real against what has been carefully manufactured to justify systemic abuse and denial of human rights in this country since our inception.

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan estimates that around 728 people have “disappeared” in the year 2016 alone. These 728 people come from families not much different from ours; they have hopes and dreams not much different than ours; and a major component of their lives has been shaped by their desire to see a better, safer and more inclusive Pakistan. This vision of a Pakistan where people can breathe and speak without being abducted, tortured or killed has motivated these people to stand up and demand an end to the deep state’s abuse of its monopoly of force.

The attack on Ahmed Noorani is neither the first of its kind, nor will it, unfortunately, be the last. Attacks against and abductions of journalists and activists, particularly those critical of the deep state, are a dark and seemingly unending reality in Pakistan. Till date, there have only been three investigations into the murder of journalists that have resulted in conclusive findings. A prominent journalist poignantly wrote in a recent daily publication: “We live in a country where victim journalists are not only supposed to struggle for survival, they are also required to collect evidence about the identity of the attackers”.

Out of the nine core human rights conventions, Pakistan is yet to become party to the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearances (CED). Considering our lack of adherence to the other seven key conventions we have ratified, one could argue it would make no difference were we to become a State Party to the CED. Maybe if the European Union tied some economic benefits to ratifying the CED, we’d be well on our way to considering it though.

For far too long have people been denied the right to question the deep state over “missing persons”, corruption of high-ranking army generals or even commercial enterprises operated by the military-industrial complex. This is despite the fact that their civilian counterparts are attacked (often without any substantial proof), made the subject of judicial and other inquiries and removed from their positions as though there is absolutely no sanctity or respect for civilian structures/institutions.

Before Mr. Nawaz Sharif was disqualified, the powers-that-be had already attempted to remove him through the street politics of the PTI. Long before Mr. Sharif’s disqualification, army generals had colluded with the same Mr. Sharif to build up pressure against Shaheed Benazir Bhutto because the highest-ranking military generals did not want to “salute” a female premier. The fact is that there can be no doubt in our minds, after all that this country has endured, that the real political decisions are taken not in Parliament or in political party meetings but at the GHQ. We daren’t state this fact lest we be threatened, abducted, isolated or beaten to death – God forbid we speak up against those that have ruled us for the majority of our history without “concrete evidence” though we forget all about standards of evidence and proof while holding civilians to account.

Even more dangerous and alarming still is the sheer brazenness with which people manifestly critical of the military are made to “disappear” and the entire military propaganda machinery driven into “narrative-building” that labels these “missing persons” one or often combinations of the following: “traitor”, “RAW-agent”, “separatist”, “foreign funded”, but perhaps the most dangerous: “blasphemer” or “kaafir”. How quickly the entire issue of “missing” bloggers was transformed from one of free speech and denial of due process (as it should have been) to that of the character and motives of these bloggers.

Article 4 of our Constitution clearly states that all individuals are to be dealt with in accordance with the due process of law. Similarly, there are provisions against high treason, arbitrary deprivation of liberty and freedom and various provisions in our penal code for the punishment of crimes listed therein. Why, then, are journalists and activists abducted, beaten and/or murdered? Our very own Supreme Court, in the Muhabbat Shah case, clearly stipulated that these enforced disappearances amount to “crimes against humanity”. So why is there no identification of or punishment for those involved? Of the hundreds of cases of missing persons, how many families have still not been told today where their loved ones are? Is this how civilized societies function?

If you criticize the state that has either engaged directly in these illegal and unlawful actions, or has turned a blind eye to them, you are a “traitor”. If you argue that the supremacy of the Constitution be upheld and the systematic denial of rights of citizens (particularly journalists and activists) be brought to an end, you are “anti-state”. But if you violate the Constitution through illegal abductions or military takeovers, and consistently shrink the space for debate, you’re a “patriot”? To hell with such patriotism that is so blinded by the blood of martyrs in uniforms but so apathetic to the plight of their own who are nothing more than “disappeared” or “missing” persons. Will we ever learn?

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Panama & Accountability

28 Jul

In the wake of the unanimous judgment in the Panama Papers case, there is cause for celebration but also immense introspection. The fact that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif should have, perhaps for his own benefit, stepped down while the hearings and investigation were being conducted is now crystal clear. The suicidal mistake of submitting the Qatari letter, the foolishness of using a font which had not been released to the public, and the sheer arrogance with which Nawaz Sharif proceeded were signals of the impending direction the Honourable Bench would be inclined to take. The evidence, or lack thereof, was working against the Prime Minister and his family.

Undeniably, there is unhappiness with the Supreme Court’s verdict – worse still, there is anxiety regarding the future of the democratic system. Nawaz Sharif is the 20th Prime Minister of Pakistan not able to complete his five-year term. On the surface, many are terming the verdict “judicial martial law”. While one can understand that our history, with PCO judges and otherwise, demonstrates exercise of “judicial martial law”, however, the Panama verdict is a victory for democracy in Pakistan.

The reasons why this is a victory are not ascertainable at face value of the judgment, but if one scratches the surface, there is a world of good that this judgment could do for Pakistan. Let us first ask ourselves: how did we get here? How did we get to this juncture where the thrice-elected Prime Minister was facing criminal investigation for non-disclosure of assets and sources of income? The answer is simple: our institutions are in shambles. It is not that this is a surprising fact – if you walk into a district court room for 10 minutes, you’d understand how broken the system is.

The next logical question to ask ourselves would be: how and why did we allow our institutions to be so weakened and ineffective? The Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan couldn’t function as per law; the National Accountability Bureau could not fulfill its mandate; and the Election Commission of Pakistan is clearly incompetent. You may choose to talk about “judicial martial law” but the fact is that it was only the Supreme Court which dispensed its duties faithfully and in adherence to the provisions of the Constitution and the law.

Yes, this may be problematic for democracy because the peoples’ mandate has, prime facie, been rendered null and void. The millions of people who stepped out of their homes to elect Nawaz Sharif for a third time feel, perhaps rightfully so, that their voice has been taken away from them by people who they did not even vote for. It is indeed a difficult time for Pakistan. The sad reality is that democracy has never been allowed to function, whether by judges swearing allegiance to military dictators or by the brute force of such dictators themselves. That is why there are murmurs of this being an establishment-backed plot, post-failed dharna, to oust the thorn in the military’s side but how we move forward is what will determine the progress of democracy in this country.

The Honourable Judges of the Supreme Court have stuck to the letter of the law: three judges had reserved their judgment till they felt it had been proven, beyond reasonable doubt, that Nawaz Sharif had not been able to disclose his assets and his sources of income. The disqualification was inevitable – how it was to be done was what probably resulted in this task taking over 11 months. So now there is screaming and crying that democracy has been derailed. What kind of a democracy do we have if the people we elect are not accountable to us? Admittedly, the nation brought Nawaz Sharif into power – but does that mean that the nation deserves to be lied to under the garb of democracy? There is no democracy without transparency and accountability.

Why we are unable to ensure transparency and accountability is in large part due to the military establishment, which is perhaps why, in the coming days, all stakeholders must tread with caution not to allow this to become the scene of their next takeover. The onus for protecting the democratic system is just as much on us as it is on our “leaders”: we should take a page out of Turkey’s book in this regard.

The effects of this decision can be felt already but the lesson from the verdict can only be learnt once we begin the process of reforming our institutions. This is not the end of accountability but the beginning, if we so decide. From generals to bureaucrats, the weeds must be pulled out. Fortunately or unfortunately, there won’t be an Imran Khan at every turn – nor would he necessarily like to irk the generals or those with question marks on their finances within his own party.

The Supreme Court has rendered its decision but it is the nation that will carve the masterpiece that could transform the political landscape of Pakistan for now and for our future generations. While we would not like to see our mandate nullified through an unelected institution, when that institution is the only means through which accountability can be ensured, we must seize the opportunity to reform rather than crying “judicial martial law”.

 

Foolish thoughts

19 May

Our lives are too short

And this world far too cruel

To live life as anything

Other than a fool.

 

Alas, what is foolish?

A word, misunderstood

Enduring pain, enjoying pleasure

Only a fool truly could!

 

“Hush now, be silent

Speak only the way you’re taught

A silly word here,

One there – with danger fraught!”

 

So for long as we remain

Part of the ruthless system

We will forever be defined

By binaries: Hindu, Muslim or Christian?

 

These binaries engulf us

Allowing us to surrender self-definition

What we are is nothing more,

Nothing less than society’s volition.

 

When we question ourselves,

Or the world we reside in

We are told, yet again

Our options are dying or resigning.

 

 

 

 

Yadhav & the ICJ

14 May

“A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to put its shoes on”. The saying goes something like that though different versions are attributed to different people. Information, for better or for worse, has an inherent capacity to be taken out of context and moulded to fit whatever paradigm a state is trying to develop. Pakistan, due to its lacking understanding and capacity with regard to international law, is often unable to comprehend the significance of such information in the international sphere. India, however, has been building its legal capacity to utilize international law to its strategic advantage. The Indian spin on the International Court of Justice’s “pre-provisional” measure illustrates exactly that.

 

India and Pakistan find themselves embroiled in some form of hostility or conflict quite often. Perhaps, this is why both states have intentionally ousted the ICJ’s jurisdiction, with regard to contentious cases between themselves or other members of the Commonwealth. This is the effect of our declaration, and India’s, under Article 36(2) of the ICJ Statute. It is because of this exclusion of the ICJ’s jurisdiction in contentious cases that India has taken the Article 36(1) route.

 

Both India and Pakistan are States Parties to the Optional Protocol to the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations 1963. Article I of this Optional Protocol stipulates: “Disputes arising out of the interpretation or application of the Convention shall lie within the compulsory jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice and may accordingly be brought before the Court by an application made by any party to the dispute being a Party to the present Protocol”. It is under this provision that India has invoked the jurisdiction of the ICJ with regard to Yadhav’s case.

 

Accordingly, Article 36(1) of the ICJ Statute clearly provides: “The jurisdiction of the Court comprises all cases which the parties refer to it and all matters specially provided for in the Charter of the United Nations or in treaties and conventions in force”. At this stage, it would be premature and rather irresponsible to claim that the Court will most certainly assume jurisdiction. This is particularly important considering India’s claims that it has “won” against Pakistan, presenting some sort of illusion that it has argued at a stage of proceedings. In reality, only a generic, routine statement has been issued by the President of the ICJ and if one is to review all case law in this regard, it is clear that the statement issued by the President of the Court is not a stay order but a request to maintain the status quo. This request has not only been directed at Pakistan but also at India. It is a mere statement to the effect that both parties maintain the status quo – nothing more and nothing less.

 

The assumption of jurisdiction by the ICJ is yet to be seen. Once an application is filed, there is a customary “oral hearing” – in fact, there may be a single hearing or multiple depending on each State’s legal strategy. This oral hearing is awaited and in the absence of notice and appearance of both parties for the oral hearing, there is no provisional measure that can be granted. Pakistan has only recently received notice and therefore, to state that provisional measures have already been granted is entirely baseless and factually incorrect.

 

In the event that the ICJ does assume jurisdiction, which is not entirely unlikely considering precedent in this area, this may not be as awful for Pakistan as the Indian media would have us believe. The fact is that Yadhav confessed to not only sabotage but much more than that – he was tried and convicted in accordance with domestic law, and his sentence is a culmination of those lawful proceedings. The Pakistani case against Yadhav is perhaps a lot stronger on merits than India’s case against Pakistan in this regard. Having said that, regardless of the outcome or whatever fears we may have in appearing before the ICJ, it cannot be emphasized enough that Pakistan must fully participate at all stages of the proceedings.

 

What many are neglecting is the fact that Pakistan and India have, between themselves, a Bilateral Agreement of 2008. Clause VI of this Agreement clearly provides for denial of consular access/assistance in cases where national security is concerned. Therefore, it can be argued that India has voluntarily, through bilateral agreement with Pakistan, committed itself to the provisions contained within the 2008 Agreement. The international legal principle of pacta sunt servanda entails that India must honour and keep its agreements. The fact that Yadhav was not an ordinary Indian citizen, or an ordinary Indian diplomat is key in Pakistan’s arguments before the Court – that is the crux of our national interest ground and must be maintained throughout.

 

In any case, even if the case proceeds onto merits and a judgment is secured against Pakistan, we should be well aware of precedent before the ICJ and how various States have reacted in the event that provisional measures have been issued by the Court and those very States have refused to comply with them, citing domestic law as a justification for the same. The LaGrand case before the ICJ, between Germany and the US, concerned temporary court orders of the ICJ by which the Court directed the US to halt the execution of two German nationals, the LaGrand brothers, who had attempted an armed bank robbery in Arizona. The US executed both brothers in spite of the fact that the ICJ had issued provisional measures, which it deemed to be binding. The US’ argument was that the Vienna Convention 1963 does not grant rights to individuals but to States. In this regard, Pakistan too can argue that the ICJ cannot be turned into a court of criminal appeal, particularly where matters of sovereignty and national security are concerned.

Anti-Pakistan?

9 May

The fear of big, bad India is a key factor in policy formulation in Pakistan, as it has always been. Whether it is our “Kashmir policy”, our interference in Afghanistan, or what is supposedly to be the stimulus for economic progress and growth in Pakistan, i.e. CPEC, every step we take, whether it is forward or backward, is shaped by security considerations tied to our neighbour.

It is unsurprising then that we would go so far as to glorify terrorists in our media. The same establishment that abducts bloggers, at its whim and fancy, and is feeding off a huge proportion of our budget is the very same institution that has made Ehsanullah Ehsan, a known terrorist responsible for the blood of thousands of Pakistanis, a “hero”: another one of the establishment’s blue-eyed boys.

The DG ISPR, on 26th April 2017, announced that Ehsanullah Ehsan had exposed “hostile foreign agenda” within Pakistan, and “designs to destabilize Pakistan”. It is truly alarming that Pakistan has one of the world’s best-ranked intelligence agencies, and yet it takes such immense pride in constantly being the victim of “hostile foreign agenda”. The military that has lost hundreds and thousands of lives to the terrorism that has gripped this country for decades now is the same military that allowed Ehsanullah Ehsan a prime time slot for his anti-India tale to be aired. One can try and take some time to digest that but to no avail.

US-based security expert, Arif Jamal recently told DW that the ISPR-released video of Ehsanullah Ehsan “has made a saint out of a top terrorist”. The fact is that it becomes largely irrelevant to the grander scheme of things that India is sending in funds, and possibly equipment, to train rogue elements within our own state. In the modern world, unfortunately, there is inter-state intrigue between even the most developed countries. Yet, in Pakistan, it seems like the national narrative is exactly where the military establishment wants it to be: stand united against India – nothing more, nothing less.

Without fear of India, of course, people would have the ability to ask far more pressing questions. Why are undemocratic institutions shaping domestic and foreign policy even today after a smooth transition between two democratic governments? Why is there no crack-down, whether through Radd-ul-Fasaad or otherwise, against known hate-preachers, such as Lal Masjid’s notorious Abdul Aziz, or Bol TV’s Aamir Liaqat? Why have there been no consequences for the DG ISPR’s announcement of the COAS’ rejection of the civil government’s report on Dawn leaks? The answers to these questions require us to break free of the shackles that our own establishment has placed on us, for no other reason but the fact that they sincerely and genuinely believe “national interest” is the military’s interest.

There is no denying Indian involvement in destabilizing Pakistan but the fact that we still use that as a reason not to protect ourselves, in the long-term, against this apparent threat is alarming. It is as though human lives are all interchangeable and mere tools to some greater policy design that has never even been coherently articulated or planned.

Nawaz Sharif goes to India and the entire state apparatus turns up the heat on him: how dare civilians think they have a right to mend relations with a permanent neighbour? We’ll recall and condemn the blood on Modi’s hands but will never utter a word against the blood of our own people on our establishment’s hands, be it our brothers and sisters in Balochistan and FATA, or those with no option but to send their children to Madressahs, where they will be manufactured for Jihad – the State seems to still ignorantly believe that the Jihadi outpour will be in Kashmir. Kashmir has its own indigenous struggle for freedom and we certainly don’t need to be complicating already challenging times for them by sending in our boys.

While the phenomenon of radicalization spread across Pakistan like wildfire, the situation in India is fast catching up. We have our Mashal Khan, Shahzad Masih, Shama Bibi, and countless other victims of “mob justice” while India has its Pehlu Khan, Muhammad Ikhlaq, and several others who lost their lives to enraged mobs. The fire exists on both sides and poorly thought out security and strategic considerations are being used as grounds to fan the flames.

We are the society that makes heroes out of terrorists and self-confessed murderers; a society that has civil and military leadership so entranced by the sight of dollars that human life has lost its value entirely. People are angry: from your airports to your general stores, there is immense frustration breeding while flawed policies continue to radicalize the young and old alike. India bashing is still a priority; asking for the boots to take over is still our solution to deeply embedded problems created by those very boots; we are victims by choice of circumstances that we have made by refusing to take responsibility for what happens within our borders.

The violence is symptomatic of a far more frightening disease: this need to constantly be seen as the victim of circumstances out with our control. No accountability for where our taxpayer’s money is going when the military we equip is unable, despite several military operations, to defeat terrorism. Similarly, no accountability for why our civil government has refused to undertake criminal justice reform, instead leaning on the military to continue on through military courts, God forbid the civilian government may actually have to use half its brain to decide what sort of a legal system is required to deal with Pakistan’s current circumstances.

There are actors and do-ers: we, in Pakistan, are just passive receivers. We unite in condemning terrorist attacks but drift off into finger pointing and neighbour-blaming whenever the time comes to speak of policy reform. What we’ve had for the last many years is clearly not working. Is it anti-Pakistan to want better? Is it anti-Pakistan to want to see a peaceful, progressive society where one can express a thought without fear of dangerous labeling? Is it anti-Pakistan to spend our time and effort on our rich culture, languages and art rather than spending our time manufacturing bombs and missiles? If it’s anti-Pakistan to want to see a stable, democratic Pakistan, then our conceptions of our national identity need some serious re-evaluation.

 

Questioning the deep state

30 Jan

While the missing activists, including Salman Haider, have been returned to their families, there are a series of concerns, questions and demands for accountability that remain unheard, actively ignored or deliberately unanswered. Despite the fact that these activists have been returned, it remains true that their lives are under threat as a result of the decision taken, at the state level, perpetuated by select media personalities, to level unsubstantiated and dangerous allegations against them.

Their return may seem like the end of this chapter but that is far from the truth. God alone knows of the psychological and physical torture they endured for the duration of their illegal and unlawful detention. One begins to see more and more clearly why the State of Pakistan is yet to sign and ratify the Convention on Enforced Disappearances (CED), one of the nine core international human rights conventions. It is worth mentioning that out of these nine conventions, while Pakistan has ratified/acceded to seven, implementation and compliance under provisions of the same is appalling.

In the relief that we may feel at the return of these activists, we must ensure that we do not lose sight of the battle ahead. It is a battle we surrendered in long ago when we gave the military establishment carte blanche to abduct persons at their whim and fancy, in contravention of not only our Constitution but also our international legal obligations. It is a battle we must resume, not for ourselves but for the safety of our children who we hope to raise in a society where their fundamental Constitutional rights cannot be infringed (at least not without severe repercussions).

For how long will we shamelessly ignore the plight of families whose loved ones from FATA and Balochistan still have no idea where they are, or if they’re alive or dead? Will we continue to call ourselves a ‘resilient’ nation in the face of these crises when this word is nothing more than a blanket over pure apathy?

In the meantime, who will guarantee that the right to life of these activists will be safeguarded against radicals who were unleashed on them as a consequence of false and baseless propaganda to justify their illegal detention? Do we trust the state that violated their Constitutional rights to protect and promote those very rights now?

The names and faces change but the tactics of the deep state remain unchanged. The fact remains that this institution has no idea what their Constitutional role is or how to stay within the bounds of authority granted to them. Worse still is the naïve, ill informed and hyper-nationalist response of the general populace.

We never seem to learn from our past. We continue to remain in denial whenever any sort of genuine and legitimate criticism is leveled against the military establishment. To call it a “holy cow” is an understatement – it is effectively tantamount to blasphemy to question the deep state.

Have we become so indoctrinated that we roll over and accept all sorts of violations of the Constitution in the name of ‘national interest’? What this ‘national interest’ is has never been defined and it is within that ambiguity that the deep state thrives. It is free to pick people at random because our consciences are dead and it is far simpler to accept the “national interest” narrative than to open our eyes.

The caretakers of this ‘national interest’, however, require what any modern day propaganda machine flourishes as a consequence of: influencing the media. From Dr. Shahid Masood to Aamir Liaqat, the state has its grip on the leashes of media personalities who have huge fan followings but no sense of responsibility or ethics.

Ironic then that there was this huge uproar following Cyril-gate when the military establishment has its people all over the media, consistently feeding them information and expecting in return that their bidding be done. After all, who wouldn’t want the guarantee of security and protection from the only institution that effectively has control over whether you live or die? Perhaps, the next time you hear a television anchor telling you that he has reliable information from his ‘inside’ sources, question the source that feeds him/her the same way so many of you were so quick to pounce on Cyril and Dawn in the pursuit of “national interest”.

Anyone who dares to question is faced with dangerous labelling. While the previous trend had been to label those who questioned the deep state “traitors”, “anti-Pakistan”, we have now seen life-threatening labeling emerge, from “blasphemer” to “anti-Islam”. We have been, throughout our collective history, silenced through the weapon of fear and oppression. Very few dare to speak out and those who do are told to tread with caution, in fear of that labeling. But it is this caution that has ensured successful use of this weapon against us.

So while we try to figure out where we stand and how we move on from here, we must first have our questions answered. Why were these activists illegally detained instead of being put through due process of law, had they committed any offence (as the allegations against them suggest)? How many people within Pakistan have gone ‘missing’ and what has the state done/is the state doing to ensure they are recovered? Maybe just begin by asking why the need to make people go ‘missing’ in the first place? Is that how civilized societies operate?

Is it for the preservation of ‘national interest’ that families are separated and voices different from the rest silenced? Is this ‘national interest’ worth damaging the minds and bodies from which dissenting voices emanate – voices that strengthen the system by questioning what is wrong with it? For what have we ceded our civil and political rights and liberties? Is this ‘national interest’ or the interest of an institution whose sole purpose has been to control the narrative from day one? The answers may shake the entire foundation of our society but they are the first step in resolving this crisis.

Yet another missed opportunity

30 Sep

This piece has been co-authored by Imaan Mazari-Hazir and Rana Adan Abid. The writers are lawyers.

 


 

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s address to the 71st session of the United Nations (UN) General Assembly (GA) has received a rather mixed reaction at home. Many who usually criticise the Prime Minister lauded him for conveying Pakistan’s stance rather effectively and eloquently to the international community. However, many took a position on the alternative side of the fence. This piece attempts to identify the politico-legal implications flowing from the premier’s address in New York in the context of recent regional developments.

If one were to believe Pakistani and Indian media, particularly electronic, they would find themselves engulfed in a mad, nonsensical frenzy. One might actually believe we were about to go to war. In fact, some have even gone as far as to deem war ‘necessary’ and encourage it.

Meanwhile, allegations continue to surface against Pakistan, whether leveled by Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, or seen from US lawmakers who moved a bill to declare Pakistan a ‘state-sponsor’ of terrorism. There are ignorantly construed links being drawn between the status of Balochistan and that of Jammu and Kashmir under international law. Flights are being cancelled to certain areas within Pakistan while the Indians move heavy ammunition to the Line of Control (LOC). Social media, too, is plagued with this hype-fuelled debate on which army can defeat the other and inflict a higher degree of damage.

What is being constantly forgotten in this frenzy is the crucial role of legal policy and diplomatic channels. It was this forgetfulness that could be felt in the general reactions to the Prime Minister’s address. Indeed, the premier’s speech could have instead been a speech inspired by Modi-style Pakistan bashing before the international community, but what we continue to ignore is that it is this disproportionate reaction from India that demonstrates the strength of the indigenous Kashmiri struggle.

While the Prime Minister demonstrated great strength and commitment in remembering Burhan Wani, he fell short of being able to highlight the cause he died fighting for. Instead of discussing the illegality of the Indian occupation of Kashmir, the Prime Minister’s speech contained much of the same rhetoric Pakistani politicians have been regurgitating for decades, devoid of any substantive legal or diplomatic measures.

The Prime Minister did, indeed, throughout the course of his speech, repeatedly remind the UNGA of Security Council (SC) commitments on the Kashmir issue. Whether it is for better or for worse, the self-determination argument on its own has been unable to stand before the international community. Instead of recognizing this hurdle and simultaneously developing the case for Kashmir from an International Humanitarian Law (IHL) perspective, we refuse to do our homework.

The use of pellet guns to suppress the indigenous Kashmiri struggle for the right to self-determination falls out with the bounds of any legal cover for the use of force. Even if we look outside the law of peacetime, during which the human rights paradigm is applicable, there is a strong legal case to be made that India is in violation of IHL standards, owing to the war-like situation in Kashmir. The crucial question here is: did the Prime Minister’s advisers prove to the international community that the actions of the Indian state are in clear violation of established principles and norms of international law? Was his speech both diplomatically sound and legally defensible? Equally important, did the Prime Minister say everything he could have given the timely opportunity?

Under UNGA Resolution 1514 (XV) inter alia, the inherent right of all nations to political self-determination is well recognized. Not only do UNGA resolutions carry undeniable weight in the making of customary international law, as the statements of the only body with a near universal membership, they reflect the state of the global conscience at a given time. When these UNGA resolutions were passed, the world was stepping out of the age of empires into an age of nation-states. Unfortunately, the political impasse between India and Pakistan has rendered impossible any meaningful exercise of this right of self-determination.

And all this while the United Nations, for all its commitment to lofty ideals and the promise of a plebiscite in Kashmir, has been unable to live up to its own word. In that sense, the Prime Minister was not only right to wholeheartedly support the Kashmiri struggle for freedom but was spot on for holding both India and the international community, at large, accountable for the lack of implementation of the UNSC and UNGA resolutions on Kashmir.

However, given what a prime time opportunity this was to garner international support through diplomatic pressure, the Prime Minister’s lack of mention of the IHL violations carried out by the Indian government and intelligence agencies was regrettably poor strategy.

Further, in the context of allegations from Indian quarters of state, as well as the Indian media, it was alarming that there was hardly any sound heard from the Prime Minister on Indian interference within Pakistan’s borders. All the while that India is building up this image of Pakistan as a ‘terrorist’ state in the international community, did our Prime Minister not think it wise to defend Pakistan’s own right to exclusively regulate its domestic political affairs as a State, without intervention from India, as mandated by international law?

It seems that one of the foremost tenets of the UN Charter, reaffirmed in the Nicaragua case (1986), before the International Court of Justice (ICJ), i.e. of non-interference in the affairs of another state, was neglected throughout the Prime Minister’s address. There is well-documented evidence in the reports issued by the BBC which incriminate the Indian state by disclosing evidence of them funding MQM in Pakistan. Perhaps, that and related documents could have made for a second dossier exposing the reality of India’s propaganda before the international community, which is not only misleading but damaging to Pakistan’s strategic interests.

While it certainly does not benefit Pakistan or Kashmiris to take the offensive here, it bears to note that, by all means, it was our Prime Minister’s rightful position to defend the national sovereignty and political independence of Pakistan, while also being able to shift the paradigm of discussion to IHL violations being committed by India in Kashmir. Instead, we heard the same rhetoric and wasted yet another opportunity to present our own case as well as the independent one for Kashmir before the international community.