The world has always perceived India as more responsible and credible than Pakistan. It is a constitutional democracy with a rule of law devised to safeguard personal liberties and human rights. Quite intrinsic to that framework is the right to judicial redress.
From that perspective, solicitor general (SG) Tushar Mehta seemed to be missing the big picture when he advised the Supreme Court against issuing notices to the Centre on petitions challenging the constitutional validity of the amendments that nixed Jammu and Kashmir’s special status under Article 370. The SG’s argument that cut no ice with the Court was: issuance of notices could have international implications, including in the United Nations.
Historically, the checks and balances in our system, quite central to which is an independent judiciary, have afforded India a moral high ground even in the worst of times. A case in point to show that the respect is well-deserved is that of Pakistani gunman Ajmal Kasab. He was caught on camera with a gun in hand amid the mayhem wrought in Mumbai by the terror gang of which he was a member. Yet he was given a fair trial before being sent to the gallows for the 2008 attack that sent shivers down the spine of cosmopolitan India.
The government stayed the course of law in the face of a massive public outrage and demands for the terrorist’s summary trial and execution. Nine years down the road, New Delhi’s handling of the Kasab case lent force, in the eyes of the world community, to its demand for consular access and fair trial for Kulbhushan Jadhav, an Indian national whom a Pakistani military court had sentenced to death for espionage and terrorism in 2017.
By disregarding the SG’s averments to carry out its remit, the Apex Court exemplified the primacy of law that will help — rather than impede — New Delhi push back Islamabad’s desperate bid to internationalise Kashmir. The message to the world is: the Indian state has the will and the wherewithal to take care of its citizens.
From the belligerence he builds into his statements, Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan’s effort obviously is to turn the clock back to the early 1990s. Kashmir then was seen as a potential nuclear flashpoint amid allegations of human rights violations.
That was also the time Islamabad would (as it is planning now) go knocking at the doors of the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) while lecturing New Delhi to create a “propitious climate” for a bilateral dialogue by restoring calm in the Valley. The world has since changed. Terrorism is high on the international agenda and Pakistan hugely discredited as its epicenter and progenitor.
So, for the present, Khan comes across as chasing a chimera. His narrative will have no takers at the global stage if New Delhi can turn things around in Kashmir. In that direction, a gradual opening up of the political space, besides lifting the curbs on the media, could be worth the risk they entail.
A society that is open about its troubled spots is better believed for its healing touch. For instance, in the 1990s, much of the Pakistani propaganda on multilateral forums such as the OIC (Organization of Islamic Cooperation) on the rights violations in Kashmir drew on reports in the Indian media. If nothing else, it presented the deeply restive Valley in a democratic frame that has forever eluded the territory occupied by Pakistan.
It was on the strength of such openness that, as a resident Indian journalist at the time in Islamabad, I could tell my Pakistani counterparts that they weren’t telling my fraternity what it did not already know and was critical about. The contrast had become evident to even those Kashmiris who had crossed over to join militancy in the tumultuous ’90s. A few among them, including the brother of the hanged separatist Maqbool Bhat, met and pleaded for amnesty to a group of Indian journalists visiting PoK in 2004.
Why do you want to return? What has changed, I remember asking Bhat’s brother. “We had greater freedom of speech and political activity on the other side,” he replied. The response of another separatist who was desirous of returning, bordered on the poignant: “I used to give charity when in my home in Indian Kashmir. Here I live on charity.” It’s about time New Delhi took the toughest call — that of deploying some of its soft power in Kashmir.