Clean hands

21 Oct 2019


The writer is a lawyer.
The writer is a lawyer.

LAST month, the prime minister spoke with great emotion at the UN General Assembly in New York, where he implored the world to respect Muslim sentiment, and for it to be outraged at the treatment of humanity in India-held Kashmir.

That Kashmir can be presented to the world as a human rights issue needs no further qualifiers. A domineering and fascist state apparatus has taken away basic rights from a population to the degree that an entire territory now resembles a concentration camp.

Horror stories are surfacing of people dying of otherwise preventable causes, patients with renal failure suffering without dialysis, patients with cardiac problems unable to call ambulances. Doctors, afraid of speaking on the record for fear of immediate dismissal, speak of hundreds of outpatient cases in every hospital where patients have been unable to turn up for treatment.

The New York Times recently published a harrowing story of a son who walked into his house to tell his mother that he was going to die, because he had just been bitten by a snake. He had made the horrific calculation that he would need anti-venom within six hours to survive, and that the communications blockade and movement restrictions meant this would be impossible. His mother attempted to defy the odds, begged everyone she could to help, travelled unsuccessfully to the local clinic and the nearest hospital, but 22 hours later her son was proved right and died due to a lack of timely medical treatment.

The world chooses to look beyond our championing the rights of humanity in India-held Kashmir.

We use these stories to highlight the morally repugnant situation in occupied Kashmir. We also wonder why the world does not listen to us. We blame it for being biased against the religion of the majority of the Kashmiris; our prime minister argued that a few thousand Jews would not be left to suffer the fate the world ignores of eight million Kashmiris.

Perhaps much of the blame lies with the world for its discounted appreciation of Muslim lives. Perhaps the problem also lies with us. The question that arises when we highlight Kashmir as simply a human problem, is where does the concern for humanity disappear when the crisis is elsewhere?

There is a legal maxim which underpins the administration of equitable relief, that he who comes into equity must do so with clean hands. Briefly, it is the idea that where you are seeking an intervention from an adjudicating body, your own conduct must be free of blame.

Regardless of the actions of your opponent, regardless of the excesses of the aggressor, you must be able to show yourself to be without fault before demanding intervention against another. Similarly, it can be said that on the global stage, one can also only champion humanity once universal respect is accorded. You cannot pick and choose the cause that entails fighting for fundamental freedoms.

The world took notice when Iceland mourned the death of a glacier. Part of the reason why the world paused and reflected on the alarm of a country of 350,000 people, is because their angst over climate change is reflected in the entirety of their country’s internal and external policy. There are high taxes on pollutants, the majority of Icelanders are conscious of living sustainably and a coherent, consistent message of conservationism is projected to the world as a primary goal.

So when we take to the table of world debate, the atrocities committed by a fascist Indian government upon a minority; our standing to make this claim is also brought under scrutiny.

And that larger picture analysis, even in its most immediate capture, reflects several inconsistencies. For instance, while the situation in Balochistan bears little comparison with what is happening inside IHK, we have attempted to tackle the discontent and militancy without addressing the grievances at the heart of it. We similarly continue to handle the Pakhtun resentment that has emerged.

We have imposed laws such as the KP actions (in aid of civil power) ordinance, which violate our own constitution. Many might compare it to the way the Indians have violated their own social contract. The Indian state has worked to capture private media through economic co-option and other incentives, the Pakistani state has done so through the cruder method of indirect censorship.

We are publicly silent on the Chinese concentration camps set up to ‘educate’ their Uighur Muslim minority. Videos of hundreds of such ‘students’ being made to shuffle along from one internment camp to another whilst the Chinese state attempts to bleach them of Islam and culture are readily available online. We hug and smile with the Afghan Taliban, eager to bring them to the American table as our long-held bargaining chip after watching decades of their brutality in Afghanistan.

When our prime minister pointed to the travesties going on in IHK, the world took added notice of the humanitarian crisis. But in the aftermath of that speech, Pakistan’s voice has been left behind in the global coverage of the atrocities in Kashmir. Absent the moral authority to question the human problem that is Kashmir, we are left looking like we were using it to highlight our political problem with India.

But the world chooses to look beyond our championing the rights of humanity in Kashmir, and sees it instead as the more consistent political positioning of one rival country against another, both of whom are busy dismissing or targeting within their own boundaries several voices of dissent, the basic building blocks of a plural citizenry.

Standing outside in the sun every Friday may be a fitting form of self-punishment, but to truly add weight to our voice, a more consistent respect of other’s rights to say what we do not like to hear is a much-needed start.

The writer is a lawyer.

Twitter: @jaferii

Published in Dawn, October 21st, 2019