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In Kashmir, Abuses Bruise Hopes for Peace

Complaints Against Indian Security Forces Rise

By John Lancaster
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, September 6, 2004; Page A18

GUND DACHINA, India -- At first, said Syed Rehman Mir, the policemen treated him with the deference he had come to expect as a senior government doctor in the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir. They graciously accepted his offer of tea, he recalled, and assured him they just had a few questions. Would he mind accompanying them to the station house for half an hour?

The good manners didn't last. Accused of aiding Pakistani-backed Islamic militants in their fight against Indian forces in the region, Mir, 42, was detained and tortured over three days in early August, he said in an interview last week. Among other methods, he said, interrogators applied an electric current to his toes and genitals and used a length of wood to crush his thighs, causing wounds and deep bruises.

Syed Rehman Mir, a Kashmiri doctor, said he was hospitalized last month after Indian police tortured him for allegedly aiding Islamic militants. (John Lancaster -- The Washington Post)

_____India - Pakistan Talks_____
India, Pakistan End Talks Stalemated Over Kashmir (The Washington Post, Sep 7, 2004)
India, Pakistan Extend Peace Talks (The Washington Post, Sep 5, 2004)
India Test Fires Nuclear-Capable Missile (Associated Press, Aug 29, 2004)
Special Report: India - Pakistan
Primer: The Conflict in Kashmir

"They were not allowing me to cry because they were putting a cloth in my mouth," said Mir, whose story was corroborated by medical records and photographs of his injuries. "It was horrible. I was praying to God that I should die."

Eight months after India and Pakistan initiated formal negotiations to end more than half a century of hostility, much of it bearing on their competing claims to Kashmir, there has been little discernible reduction in human rights abuses by Indian security forces that have been waging a counterinsurgency campaign in the region since 1989, according to human rights monitors, Kashmiri political leaders and government data.

The continuing abuses, coupled with recent statements by Indian officials to the effect that Kashmir's territorial status is nonnegotiable, have sown doubts in both Kashmir and Pakistan about whether India's new government -- which recently completed its first 100 days in power -- is sincere about resolving the Kashmir conflict or is merely buying time. Estimates of the number of people killed in the insurgency range from 30,000 to 60,000.

Indian officials say they are committed to settling the dispute, but only after Gen. Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan's president, fulfills repeated pledges to end state support for Islamic militants who continue to cross from Pakistani-held Kashmir into the Indian side of the region, albeit in lower numbers than in the past.

Against that backdrop, the optimism that accompanied the start of peace negotiations in both India and Pakistan is giving way to fear of renewed tensions between two nuclear powers that have already fought three wars -- two over Kashmir -- and nearly fought a fourth in 2002. In New Delhi on Sunday, Indian Foreign Minister Natwar Singh and his Pakistani counterpart, Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri, began two days of talks to assess the progress of the negotiations.

Just as the Pakistanis "fear that India is stringing them along on Kashmir, here there is also a sense that they're not going to give up violence as an instrument of negotiation," said C. Raja Mohan, a foreign affairs columnist for the Hindu, a New Delhi newspaper. Mohan said, however, that he remained hopeful about the negotiations because "neither side can afford failure at this stage."

The Kashmir dispute dates to 1947, when the British quit the subcontinent and gave the rulers of its semi-autonomous states a choice between joining the new nations of India or Pakistan. Although the state formally known as Jammu and Kashmir was -- and remains -- predominantly Muslim, its Hindu maharajah elected to stay with India. Pakistan, which controls a portion of the state, has never recognized his choice.

After local separatists launched their rebellion in 1989, Islamic militants based in Pakistan and supported by that country's military intelligence service joined the fray, causing a sharp escalation in terrorist violence. In response, India has deployed a massive security force of more than 500,000 men.

In some ways, conditions in the state have improved over the last few years. In 2002, Kashmiris elected a new state government in a contest that was generally regarded as fair, although boycotts by separatist groups kept turnout low. Tourists have since returned to the gardens and houseboats of Srinagar, the fabled summer capital, and militant violence has registered a modest decline.

At the same time, Kashmiris say they have been disappointed that the peace process has not yielded other improvements. For example, India has refused requests by moderate separatist leaders to release political prisoners and end offensive combat operations, and a popular proposal to run buses across the cease-fire line that separates Indian and Pakistani forces in Kashmir has stumbled over India's insistence that the bus passengers carry passports.

Moreover, complaints against state security forces have increased from 309 in 1999-2000 to more than 700 in the year that ended Aug. 31, according to the Jammu and Kashmir State Human Rights Commission. "We tried to tell them that if you address the human rights situation in the [Kashmir] Valley, it will send a message to the people that the government of India is sincere," said Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, a senior cleric who leads the main moderate faction of Kashmiri separatists. "Unfortunately, nothing of that sort happened."

Indian Home Minister Shivraj Patil, whose ministry oversees internal security, said in an interview that "half a dozen big cases don't prove anything" and accused India's critics of overlooking "the human rights of the people who are fighting to protect the lives of innocent people."

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