New Delhi: Although the United States quit the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) last June over the excessive targeting of Israel and other concerns, it has not prevented the Donald Trump administration from training guns on China for alleged violations of rights of Uighurs seeking freedom. While demands of justice form the core of human rights challenges as they should, realpolitik also leads them into unexpected directions. India should be warned of this in the context of Jammu and Kashmir.

New Delhi and the Geneva-based HRC have fallen out according to The Hindu newspaper over allegations of human rights violations in Jammu and Kashmir. Controversy centres on a HRC report on J and K of June 2018 prepared by Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein before the end of his term as HRC chief. Rejecting the report, India thought it was the end of the matter. Not quite. In a follow-up, HRC revived the report this year and endorsed new allegations by two Jammu and Kashmir-based NGOs of torture of civilians by security forces by electrocution and waterboarding in addition to sexual violence.

The Zeid Ra’ad report is problematic for recommending a “comprehensive independent international investigation into allegations of human rights violations in Kashmir”. No self-respecting government can stand for such perverse undermining of sovereignty. The report also suffers from the unintended bias often faced by democracies for the openness of their information and reporting systems. Drawing from Supreme Court orders, statements made in Parliament and in the J and K assembly, observations of the national and state human rights commissions, reliable press stories and so forth, the report does paint a grim picture of the ground situation in Jammu and Kashmir.

Where it egregiously fails in objectivity is in calling terrorist organizations operating in J and K as “armed groups” even while admitting to their proscription by the United Nations. It terms Pakistan-occupied Kashmir “azad” lazily adopting the Pakistani nomenclature and the report of that region compares nothing to the depth of its coverage of Jammu and Kashmir. While repudiating Zeid Ra’ad’s compiled account, India accused him of personal bias, which is rather harder to prove than political naivete. The Indian rejection of the report and the US withdrawal from the UN Human Rights Council occurred in the same month of June 2018.

While New Delhi might yet iron out any wrinkles caused by the Zeid Ra’ad account and its follow up by cleaning its act in Jammu and Kashmir which is vastly overdue, it might nevertheless give leverage to certain powers to extract pounds of geopolitical and geo-economic flesh from India. The issue of human rights has been put to very cynical use before, of which China and the Uighur question is the latest but not the last example.

When Leonid Brezhnev signed the Helsinki Accord in 1975, he hoped it would legitimize his regime and make permanent the East-West divisions of post-World War II Europe. Brezhnev and the Soviet politburo failed to recognize the significance of the part of the accord that spoke of “the universal significance of human rights and fundamental freedoms ... in conformity with the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights”. Unexpectedly for all parties which signed the accord, it became one of the single biggest underminers of the Soviet bloc.

Having chanced upon a potent geopolitical weapon, the United States has not left any opportunity to use it. It was employed against the Soviet Union and its Cold War partners. It has been selectively deployed in the Americas and elsewhere. It forms a key component of US soft power. And now to China’s shock and consternation, the US has taken a position on Uighur separatism by raising human rights questions. The US is not alone. Western Europe led by the UK has joined the bandwagon.

Mark the cynicism. Uighurs were encouraged before by the West but not to the extent of truly damaging China. Once China was confirmed as a geopolitical and geo-economic rival, Uighurs became one more tool to dismantle Chinese great power. The more China challenges the West led by the United States, the greater encouragement will Uighur separatism get. This is not about principles or justice although China is scarcely the repository of either.

It would be the turn of Jammu and Kashmir if India does not put its house in order fast. Only interests are permanent in international relations. If it is in the US interest to squeeze India on Jammu and Kashmir, it will do so. It has done it before when Pakistan served its geopolitical ends better. Almost certainly this time, it would be to gain concessions from India on market, trade, etc. Should India’s economic fundamentals slip as looks increasingly likely going forward, New Delhi’s vulnerabilities in Jammu and Kashmir will commensurately rise. As a marker, the Zeid Ra’ad report could well be a turning point. And hyper-nationalism in Kashmir and in the rest of the country will assuredly leave India in a worse mess than it is.