Kashmir: No-go Zone For Foreign Journalists?

 kashmir army

The storyof contemporary Kashmir would have remained under wraps, marked as “classified,” “top secret” never to be toldto the world.But,for some journalist living true to their professional ethics, it was reported.Annie Gowen, graduate of the William Allen White School of Journalism and Mass Communications at the University of Kansas recipient of Human Rights Press Award of Special Merit 2018, with just one tweet worth thousand words on  microblog the Twitter joined the long lists of American and European journalist whose stories   for past over seven decades many times havebroughtthe‘hegemonydiscourse’ of New Delhi on Kashmir a cropper.The gruesome story of ethnic cleansing in Jammu in 1947, which some historians  have described worse than communal riots in Punjab would have been lost to the censorship imposed by the Maharaja and to the din of celebrations of the National Conference in Kashmir’. But for these reported and documented by Ian Stephens of the Statesman and the Times Special Correspondent in Jammu at that time this atrocious chapter has become part of our history. New Delhi’s cool-curdling brutal policy of catch-and-kill   of the nineties that saw     the murder of hundreds of children in cold-blood would not have been reported but for some international wires services and foreign journalists.

Annie Gowenis the Washington Post’s India bureau chief. She has reported for the paper throughout South Asia and Burma since 2013.Like a couple of other foreign journalists in India, she also has been writing stories on Kashmir – “the World’s Most Dangerous Place. Theraison d’etrefor Kashmir having come to know internationally as the most dangerous place has been the military built up, conventional and nuclear in South Asia.

On 31 July, Gowen wrote on the microblog Twitter:

“I am in Kashmir for a day to attend a friend’s wedding. I am not reporting here because @MEAIndia and @HMOIndia have not granted the special permit now required for foreign correspondents. I applied June 22. Unacceptable delay.”

The tweet had 807 likes, 491 retweets, 398 replies and made afront-page storyin a couple of newspapers- the story travelled far beyond that MEA India  (Indian Ministry of External Affairs) and HMOIndia (Ministry of Home Government of India) had practically banished foreign journalist stationed in Indi from visiting Kashmir and reporting happenings from the highest militarized zone in the world.

In yet another tweet she said:

We followed a Kashmiri pellet victim for a year in 2017. Could not do that type of reporting now if constantly need a “permit” for Kashmir from ⁦@MEAIndia⁩⁦@HMOIndia⁩⁦@rcfp⁩⁦@Poynter⁩ @hrw⁦@RSF_en⁩⁦@CJR⁩

Therein lies a big story behind Gowen writing’son the microblog. That Jammu and Kashmir have been for all practical purposes declareda no-go zone for a foreign journalist working in India. In third of week June, 2018, the Government of India invoked an antiquated order of 1958.It asked all the foreigner journalist, bureau chiefs, and correspondent not to travel to Jammu and Kashmir for ‘discharging their journalistic activities’ without permissionfrom the Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India.‘The foreign correspondents are also required to provide “advance information, in the requisite format” to the MEA before their visit since that will help it in “facilitating/arranging special permit from relevant agencies, where it is required.’

The order without making bones about the intention behind the order clearly states their visit to Kashmir will require clearance from the multiple intelligence agencies operating in the state. In South-Asia the Jammu and Kashmir, for its being a dispute between India and Pakistan that continuously keeps 1.6 million soldiers armed to the teeth in a war-readymood – a nuclear flashpoint and nestled in the middle of three nuclear powers is one of the most sought-afterNewsbeat for foreign journalists. The stories coming from the strategically located State bordering five important countries in the region makegood copies for international newspapers and electronic media.

What prompted New Delhi to invoke an out-of-date order of the cold war times from its archives?It is an important question that has engaged the attention of many journalists like Gowen in New Delhi and outside.

The promulgation of an archaic order has raised many a question. Is it, the June 14, 2018,   49-page report – the first ever issued by the UN on the human rights situation in Jammu and Kashmir that highlights “a situation of chronic impunity for violations committed by security forces and calls for international inquiry into multiple violations” that has caused New Delhi to declare Jammu and Kashmir one of biggest and important tourist destination in India as a no-go zone for foreign correspondents.  Is it arepetition of the nervousness that was seen in January 1990, when Jag Mohan Malhotra, a right-wing ideologue then Governor of the State, immediately after the Gawkadal massacre on 21 January 1990 had declared f0urteen foreign journalists as persona non grata and asked them to leave the state? Those who were asked to leave the State included famed journalists Mark Tully of BBC and Peter Heilien of the Voice of America.In the grisly situation of the nineties, these two Radio Station were the only source of credible news for the people. These foreign journalists were expelled at a time when rumor mill was abuzzthat the Governor Jag Mohan was contemplating a ‘big massacre’ – a holocaust in the state to stem the rising tide of massive public rallies and armed uprising.

Notwithstanding, the state chocking all communication channels and ensuring stringent censure  the news from Kashmir traveled on proverbial wings of pigeons outside the mountain girded Valley to the world across. Despite virtually sealing of Kashmir some important human right organization like the Freedom House and the Amnesty International published reports on the human rights violations in the State. Interestingly, despiteiron curtain restriction, the situation   in the state in the nineties had brought a paradigm shift in the US policy towards Kashmir. It had departed, from its post-1962 position and revived its stand on Kashmir and called for a plebiscite in the state and out-rightly turned down New Delhi position on Kashmir. There were indications that Kashmir was going to be back on the center stage of international politics but forfaux pa of Benazir courting Iran and dropping bringing a resolution on Kashmir on human rights in the United Nations atRafsanjani’s bidding Washington had developed cold feet on Kashmir.

In pursuing iron curtain policies on Kashmir, and creating impediments in foreign journalist discharging duties New Delhi is doing no good to its foreign policy. The Washington Post journalist in another tweet wrote, “I’m not sure why they would deport me when I am taking pains to follow their new enforcement rules regarding reporting in Kashmir.”  The FCC, (Foreign Correspondent Club) New Delhi, a tweet said was calling on the office of the MEA to discuss the restrictions on restrictions for foreign correspondent, whether New Delhi acceded their plea or not, historically opacity as policy on Kashmir has failed, it has done no good for peace in the region. In today world, which is far open than what it was in the nineties, it will be hard for New Delhi to pursue its policy of opacity on Kashmir.

In this weird scenario, I would like to go with Mikhail Gorbachev, “We could only solve our problems by cooperating with other countries. It would have been paradoxical not to cooperate. And therefore we needed to put an end to the Iron Curtain.”

Columnist and Writer


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