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



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.

End Comment.