Indian government hypersensitive to third party involvement, New Delhi Embassy cautions Washington in 2009 cable

Any hint of United States government activism in Kashmir, however helpful the intentions behind it, would prove counterproductive because of the Government of India's hypersensitivity to third party involvement in Kashmir, according to a U.S. Embassy cable sent by Ambassador Timothy Roemer.

“In order for the GOI's efforts to restore sustainable peace and stability in Kashmir to succeed, its engagement with the separatists and with the Kashmiri people must be free of any perception of outside influence,” the Embassy conveyed to Washington in a cable dated October 22, 2009 (230893: confidential).

After making a list of the kind of confidence building measures that the Indian government had to play within its Kashmir initiative, the Embassy said the list was not meant to be prescriptive. “It [the list] is provided to help Washington understand the complicated, multi-faceted problem facing the GOI in Kashmir as it moves forward on what is clearly a high priority for Prime Minister [Manmohan Singh], [Union Home Minister P.] Chidambaram and [Congress president] Sonia Gandhi.”

The Indian government, the cable said, “is fully aware of these and other steps it could take and is carefully picking and choosing what is politically possible for it today.”

The list, which was described as “illustrative rather than exhaustive,” included the following Confidence Building Measures (CBMs): ensure that dialogue with separatists achieves results; continue generous development spending; conduct panchayat (village council) elections at the earliest; release selected prisoners who are not hard core militants, do not today pose any serious threat, but have been incarcerated for years; release prisoners who have been incarcerated longer than the court-directed sentences; discontinue the practice of re-arresting accused militants who have been released by courts; stop the misuse of the Public Safety Act, which allows the government to detain anyone for two years without trial; repeal, selectively repeal or be more judicious in use of Armed Forces Special Powers Act and the Disturbed Areas Act, which gives the Army almost unchecked powers over the local population in the valley; prosecute transparently and publicly security force personnel involved in human rights violations; relocate security forces camps out of public facilities; more judicious use of house searches and road blockades by security forces; demilitarisation, gradual pullback, and pullout of the paramilitary and Army from visibility in the day-to-day life of Kashmiris; replacement of the paramilitary and Army by the Jammu & Kashmir police; empower the State Human Rights Commission so that it can make transparent inquiries and achieve some tangible results; stop the continued harassment of released/surrendered militants and their families even when these former militants no longer pose any threat; loosen further travel controls on separatist leaders; make the bus links across the Line of Control (LoC) more traveller friendly; ease travel restrictions on cross border travel, increase the number of transit points; open telephone lines across the LoC between ‘Azad Kashmir' and Jammu and Kashmir; encourage separatists to participate in future elections by providing them incentives — funding, security, press coverage; strengthen civil society by making it easier for NGOs to operate.

Director General of Police Kuldeep Khoda told an Embassy official that the J&K Police have for the last two years increasingly become the public face of the security effort in the State.

“He noted that, as far as possible, interaction of security forces with the local population is done by the J&K police in an effort to improve relations between the population and the security forces …

“Security forces have strict instructions to minimize collateral damage to civilians during operations against terrorists, sometimes to the point of letting terrorists escape if it means avoiding civilian casualties. In his view, the reduction in human rights abuses by the security forces and their better community relations have yielded tangible benefits in improving trust between the GOI and Kashmiris.”

(This article is a part of the series "The India Cables" based on the US diplomatic cables accessed by The Hindu via Wikileaks.)