President Obama’s visit to India offers him an ideal opportunity to pick up the thread of his efforts on Kashmir. Now there are cogent reasons why he should renew his interest. He can and should nudge Manmohan Singh into taking bold decisions to end the dispute.
|By: Shahid R. Siddiqi|
E VEN though the US has come to exercise considerable polit- ical influence over India in recent years, it shies away from using it to help find a solution of the Kashmir dispute which has under- mined relations between India and Pakistan and remains a powder keg ready to explode.
India increasingly relies on the US for its technology, nuclear collaboration, in- vestment and upgrading of its arsenal. The US on its part eyes India as a huge market and a key partner in its future regional geostrategic framework. It has even been trying to create a role for Ind- ia in Afghanistan where none exists and which the Indians love in order to prom- ote their regional power status and keep Pakistan cornered. This brings the two countries much closer than ever before.
Candidate Barak Obama believed that US regional interests in South Asia and Afghanistan demanded the settlement of Kashmir issue to discourage India and Pakistan from remaining at loggerheads. This, he thought, could allay Pakistan’s fears about, what it perceives to be, an existential threat from India and could then be persuaded to play a greater role in America’s war on terror by redeploy- ing more troops to Fata and fight the Taliban.
Upon taking office, he went on to float the idea of naming an American special envoy for Kashmir to facilitate a settlement. But he was rebuffed by India. He never overcame the fear of annoying India and refuses to take up the issue again. Instead, he tried to convince Pakistan not to be India-cen- tric any more, giving assurances that India had ceased to be a threat.
He even extracted from President Zar- dari a statement to this effect and went on to claim in his speech on the eve of Zardari’s US visit that Pakistan Army al- so believed this to be so. This did not wo- rk. Pakistan‘s army chief, General Kaya- ni, reflected the mindset of Pakistan’s se- curity establishment when he said re- cently that he remains India-centric.
With Indian commanders shouting from the rooftops about Pakistan and China being main threats to India’s se- curity, making loud claims about their ability to take on both countries simulta- neously and boasting about their new “Cold Start” doctrine to deal an effec- tive blow to a nuclear Pakistan, could General Kayani have said anything to the contrary? Unless India shows willing- ness to settle outstanding issues with Pakistan, mainly Kashmir and water dis- tribution, neither would the US be able to convince Pakistan to lower its guard on the eastern border nor would it have smooth sailing in turning India into a bulwark against China — its long term geo-strategic agenda.
So, for President Obama things are back to square one. Kashmir remains the core issue. Pakistan continues to consider India the main threat. And by choosing to ‘please India’ instead of ‘resolving the dispute’ he has helped nobody’s cause — not of the Kashmiri people, not of Pakistan or India and not even his own.
Although a realisation seems to be emerging among moderate Indian politi- cians for the need to explore common ground in search of a solution, weak de- cision-making by coalition governments stands in the way. Influential political el- ements, who espouse extremist anti- Pakistan agenda of hate, rule the roost and scuttled a framework agreement that was ready to be signed by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and former President Musharraf during the Agra summit, after the broad outline of a solu- tion had been worked out through secret back-channel talks.
Pakistan’s generous offer for a para- digm shift in considering new proposals acceptable to all parties to the dispute — India, Pakistan and the Kashmiri people — does not draw an eager response. While India rejects Pakistan’s proposal for mediation or arbitration, in the in- conclusive bilateral dialogue that it has held with Pakistan for decades, its lead- ership has taken one step forward and two steps backwards. As a consequence, the impasse remains.
The time has apparently come for a third party to intervene, if not to medi- ate then to facilitate the dialogue to move forward. President Obama could and should nudge Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to move away from traditional enemy stereotypes and attitude of deep mistrust, resist the hawks in his camp and take bold decisions towards reconciliation. This alone can lead to a solution.
The upcoming visit of President Obama to India this month presents him an ideal opportunity to pick up the thread of his efforts. There are cogent reasons why he should renew his interest. Kashmir has been on his own agenda from day one and now the need for a solution is increasingly felt by Congress too owing to concerns about human rights violations, arms race and the fear of nuclear conflict.
“During the presidential campaign, President Obama pledged… that solving the ‘Kashmir crisis’ was one of his ‘critical tasks’. So far, this has been a promise unfulfilled,” said Congressman Dan Burton, a Republican from Indiana, who believes that this has direct impact on the global war against terrorism in Afghanistan and Pakistan. He said he believed that “an end to the violence and uncertainty in Kashmir would be widely welcomed in India and Pakistan as well as by our military commanders in Afghanistan.” “Regrettably, the conflict has garnered little attention from the American media and zero attention from the White House,” Burton said recently in his speech in the US House of Representatives.
That the people of Kashmir want independence from Indian rule is established by numerous polls conducted by international agencies. Then, the people have voiced their ‘will’ loud and clear through active resistance against Indian occupation in the face of state violence and gross violations of human rights by 700,000 strong army and police force that brutally garrisons the valley.
“Grave breaches of humanitarian law continued unabated in Indian-Occupied Kashmir. Civilian casualties which include women, children and people of all ages have reached over 100,000 since January of 1990,” said Dr. Ghulam Nabi Fai, Executive Director, Kashmiri American Council, while lecturing on “The Humanitarian Crisis in Kashmir” at Wilmington, Delaware.
This rebellion is assuming troubling dimensions and promises to tarnish the image of the world’s ‘biggest democracy’ with the stone-throwing Kashmiri youth engaging the Indian army and getting killed in the process — a Kashmiri version of the first Palestinian intifada of the late 1980s. With negotiations between Karzai and Taliban likely to succeed one way or the other and with the American forces set to withdraw, the jihadis in Afghanistan would most certainly be free to turn their attention to Kashmir in response to calls for help. India would then find this jihadist Frankenstein impossible to deal with.
This spread of terrorism in Kashmir, and possibly India, would prove counterproductive for US interests in South Asia. To gear up as America’s proxy power India has to grow strong economically and militarily. An India at risk of getting involved in another conflict with Pakistan and jihadis knocking at its door in aid of the Kashmiris would be able to do neither. This is not what the US would want to see.
Besides, by keeping the issue alive, India does not even help Pakistan to iso late and neutralise religious extremists that seek to gain control and destabilise the region through terrorism.
For the success of US policy frame work that encompasses Afghanistan, Pakistan and India, the Kashmir compo nent has assumed greater urgency. It needs to move India towards a settle ment, reassuring it that this would not amount to mediation or arbitration.
President Obama has the image, the ability and the leverage to do this and Indian leadership would listen to him. He will have to push the issue firmly without being fearful of annoying the Indians. They have great deal at stake in keeping this relationship going.
By working behind the scenes, he could subtly lead New Delhi to complete the unfinished agenda of Manmohan Singh and Musharraf, on which a great deal of home work is already done and which Pakistan should welcome.
It would be worthwhile for President Obama to know that Kashmir happens to be one of the few places in the Muslim world that still has considerable goodwill for the US. Even Kashmiri hardliners like Syed Ali Shah Geelani have repeat edly appealed to the US to use its influ ence for resolving the Kashmir issue. Unlike Palestine, one does not hear anti American slogans in Kashmir. President Obama can build on this goodwill, a com modity he must be finding difficult to come by in the region.
(The writer is a free lance journalist based in Lahore).
NOTE:This is a cross post from Dawn News.