id: 95785 date: 2/8/2007 12:50 refid: 07NEWDELHI636 origin: Embassy New Delhi classification: SECRET destination: S E C R E T SECTION 01 OF 03 NEW DELHI 000636
E.O. 12958: DECL: 02/07/2017 TAGS: PREL, PGOV, PTER, PHUM, PBTS, MOPS, KDEM, KISL, PK, IN SUBJECT: KASHMIRIS IRATE OVER CUSTODIAL KILLINGS; PM SINGH TAKING ACTION
NEW DELHI 00000636 001.2 OF 003
Classified By: D/PolCouns Atul Keshap, Reason 1.5 (B,D)
1. (S) Srinagar was once again gripped with protests on February 7th, as police officials announced that they had dug up five unmarked graves in an ongoing investigation of custodial killings. Our interlocutors say Prime Minister Singh is influencing the investigations as a confidence building measure with Islamabad by urging security forces and the judiciary to address longstanding accusations that Indian police and security officials have tortured, killed, and disappeared thousands of Kashmiri civilians in the course of the 17 year long insurgency. While staged encounters and extra-judicial killings are by no means uncommon in India, the case has also prompted clashes in the J&K General Assembly between ruling coalition leaders Chief Minister Gulam Nabi Azad, of the Congress Party, and former Chief Minister Mufti Muhammad Said's daughter, Mehbooba, of the People's Democratic Party. The coalition has been fragile for months, with CM Azad personally preferring to ally his party with the National Conference Party, which many blame for decades of corruption and overt police abuse, while the Congress Party in New Delhi prefers to maintain the alliance with the PDP. While our interlocutors tell us the debate signals the start of campaigning for 2008, or even 2007, elections in Jammu and Kashmir, the case demonstrates the uphill battle the PM faces as he begins to tackle Kashmir's legacy of human rights violations in earnest. End Comment.
Custodial Deaths Investigated -----------------------------
2. (S) Widespread protests began in Srinagar on January 28th after the GOI began an inquiry into the custodial death of Abdur Rahman Padder, a Kashmiri carpenter. Press reports say the carpenter was arrested on December 8th and killed in a fake encounter staged by the Special Operations Group of the J&K Police. The police officers then announced to the press that he was a Lashkar-i-Taiba terrorist from Multan, Pakistan, claiming they had recovered an AK-47 rifle, three magazines, 36 rounds of ammunition, and a grenade from his body. Police investigators later uncovered the killing because an officer involved in the incident gave the victim's cell phone to a "surrendered" former terrorist as a reward for information. Investigators say the police were motivated by a desire for the recognition and rewards doled out to officers who arrest or kill a suspected terrorist and that the weapons were likely planted on the victim. The Police have now widened the investigation, digging up four more unmarked graves of terrorist suspects killed in similar encounters to see if their DNA matches those of other Kashmiri civilians who recently went missing. Press reports say the Senior Superintendent of Police, Ganderbal Hans Raj -- who has a particularly brutal reputation for encounter killings -- as well as his Deputy and the two junior officers directly implicated in the case are being held in police custody during the pending investigation.
Abuses Not Covered Up This Time -------------------------------
3. (S) Human rights lawyer and longtime government critic, Ravi Nair, told Poloff that the investigation is actually a positive step for India. Obviously, he said, New Delhi has brought some honest police officials in to do this kind of investigation because in years past evidence of this kind would have been swept under the rug in Kashmir. He said there are nearly 10,000 cases of missing persons in J&K, and it will be nearly impossible for the government to investigate all of them, especially since some people disappear because they went to Pakistan for terrorist training and later die unidentified. He said the disappearances are common because the police have forgotten how to conduct real investigations. Now instead of staging an encounter to kill suspects believing that "dead men tell no tales," however, the police try to plant explosives on suspects to keep them in detention without being forced by the courts to release them on bail. He said the entire justice system in India is so short of resources, with 13 judges per million people, that it would be easy to keep a suspect in custody for years without trial.
4. (S) Deputy PolCons also met on February 6, with Balraj Puri, a prominent writer on Kashmir and noted human rights activist. In his judgment, the Indian Army has considerably improved its security operations in J&K and therefore the Kashmiris are better off under the army,s supervision compared with the J&K police. He attributed this to two reasons: 1) the army is cognizant of human rights issues due to training, and 2) the army, given its involvement in other fields besides security (e.g. hearts and minds campaign and rural development), must maintain its reputation. The J&K police, however, are not as disciplined as the army. The police are not only exploited as a means for Kashmiris to settle rivalries amongst themselves, but the force is also plagued by widespread corruption.
Redressing the Past -------------------
5. (S) Ravi Nair explained further that the Prime Minister had launched a policy to end the "scorched earth" method of putting down the insurgency in Kashmir, and that this was a key confidence-building measure India was putting in place in talks with Pakistan. He said there has been a re-examination of the way India deals with Kashmiris, and the Indian Supreme Court had ordered reforms in the police and a New Police Reform Bill was passing through the Indian Parliament to change the way the police operated throughout the country.
The Prime Minister also recently released a new code of conduct for security forces in Kashmir and the Northeast, which calls for a far greater sensitivity to the local population. Nair further advocated that now was an important moment for the PM to make a largescale effort to redress this problem -- including starting a judicial inquiry, looking at all encounter deaths in the past year, allowing the UN Special Rapporteur on Extra-Judicial Killings to visit Srinagar, and asking a retired judge to oversee hearings on the cases to ensure that justice is done quickly. He said this was necessary because without such bold action the cases would reduce the Prime Minister's political space to make an agreement on the Kashmir issue, as hardliners in Srinagar, such as Sayeed Ali Shah Geelani, would capitalize on the cases.
Political Football ------------------
6. (S) Meanwhile, political wrangling in J&K has dominated the news of the custodial killings investigation. Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front leader Yasin Malik started a three day hunger strike on February 6th, promising to launch a fast to the death after 45 days if the police do not end all encounter killings. In perhaps a gesture of reconciliation amidst longstanding bitterness, All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC) leader Mirwaiz Omar Farooq announced his support for Yasin's efforts, sending his activists into the streets to join JKLF protests. In the J&K State Assembly, however, discussions of the case turned into a bitter clash between ruling coalition parties Congress and the People's Democratic Party (PDP) on February 6th, as Congress leader Chief Minister Gulam Nabi Azad read a list of human rights abuses, including custodial killings, disappearances, and torture that occurred during PDP leader Mufti Muhammad Sayeed's time as Chief Minister, comparing them to his own record. In response to a further declaration by CM Azad that any party that calls for security forces to leave the Valley should give up their own security, Mufti declared that his party was willing to give up its entire security detail. CM Azad, on the defensive, countered that there was a zero tolerance policy against this kind of incident, and the police officers involved would be prosecuted swiftly.
J&K Elections in 2007? ----------------------
7. (S) Deputy PolCouns met with PDP leader Mufti Muhammad Sayeed on February 9th to discuss the scandal. Mufti said Prime Minister Singh was trying to settle the Kashmir issue, and there had been a meeting chaired by Sonia Gandhi with the PM, Foreign Minister Mukherjee, Chief Minister Azad, and Saifuddin Soz. He said the leaders decided the Prime Minister should meet with the APHC, but this meeting could not happen until some time had passed after the group's trip to Pakistan. He said that if the GOI reaches a settlement with Pakistan, elections in J&K would likely be held in 2007 rather than 2008, and that the uproar over custodial killings stemmed from the fact that most of the parties were acting like they were already campaigning. He also spoke highly of the APHC, saying that he believed they would likely participate in elections and they would make a strong showing. He explained also that Pakistan was holding back terrorist attacks in India as a confidence-building measure to ensure that the negotiations succeed.
A Step in the Right Direction -----------------------------
8. (S) Comment: Longtime embassy contact G. Parthasarathy also threw his two cents into the debate in an op-ed accusing New Delhi of pandering to separatists and accusing APHC leader Mirwaiz Omar Farooq of working with terrorist leader Mushtaq Zargar during his trip to Pakistan. His accusations echo the still quiet security hawk check against the Prime Minister's efforts to resolve the Kashmir dispute with Pakistan. Nonetheless, the PM is calling the intelligence community, security forces, and police to task for decades of human rights abuses and bad police work in Kashmir. This is perhaps his most courageous political counter yet to those who accuse him of selling out the country in talks with Pakistan or not doing enough to give Kashmiris hope.
Sweeping clear the security mess in Kashmir -- if successful -- will have far-reaching implications for police work throughout India, especially in insurgency-affected areas.