Kashmir: Obama and the Vale of Tears

Kashmir: Obama & the Vale of Tears

Dispatches From The Edge

Nov. 30, 2010

There are lots of dangerous places in this world: Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon, Bolivia, Iran, Palestine, Yemen, and Somalia to name a few. But there is only one that could destabilize a goodly part of the globe and end up killing tens of millions of people. And yet for reasons of state that is the one place the Obama administration will not talk about: Kashmir.

And yet this is a region that has sparked three wars between nuclear-armed India and Pakistan, is in the midst of serious political upheaval, and is central to reducing tensions in Central and South Asia.

None of these facts come as a surprise to Obama. While running for office in 2008 he explicitly called for a solution to Kashmir.  “It won’t be easy, but it is important,” he told Joe Klein of Time magazine.

Given that India and Pakistan came within a hair’s breath of a full-scale nuclear confrontation during the 1999 Kargil incident, the importance seems obvious.

According to a recent study in Scientific American—“Local Nuclear Wars and Global Suffering”—such an exchange would kill and maim untold millions, flood the surrounding region with nuclear fallout, and create a “nuclear winter” for part of the globe.

Kashmir also fuels extremists in the region—both Hindu and Islamic—which in turn destabilizes Pakistan and Afghanistan. The conflict has killed between 50,000 and 80,000 people, “disappeared” several thousand others, seen thousands imprisoned and tortured, and subjected millions of Kashmiris to an onerous regime of occupation, with laws drawn straight from Britain’s colonial past.

Why then would President Obama remain silent on the subject, particularly since the outlines of a solution have been in place since 2007?

Commenting on Obama’s recent trip to Asia, Robert Kaplan, author of “Monsoon: The Indian Ocean and the Future of American Power,” says “In geopolitical terms, the President’s visit” was about “one challenge: the rise of China on land and sea.”

Indeed, this past year has seen Washington hurl one missive after another at Beijing. The U.S. strongly backed Japan over its recent dust up with Chinese fishing vessels in the East China Sea. Washington also intervened between China and several Southeast Asian nations over tensions around the Spratly and Paracel islands. The U.S. and South Korea recently carried out naval maneuvers close to China’s shores, Washington announced new arms sales to Taiwan, and during the recent G20 meetings in Seoul, Obama tried to pin the blame for a global currency crisis on Beijing.

While Washington denies it has any plans to “surround” China with U.S. allies, that seems to be exactly what it is doing when it courts Indonesia, tightens its alliance with Japan, and sets up new military bases in Australia. But the jewel in this anti-Chinese crown is India, and Washington will do whatever it takes to bring New Delhi on board.

The Obama administration has already endorsed the Bush administration’s 1-2-3 Agreement that allows India to violate the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty. Not only does the Agreement undermine one of world’s most important nuclear treaties, but, in a letter to the International Atomic Agency and the 45-member Nuclear Suppliers Group, Pakistan warned that the Agreement “threatens to increase the chances of a nuclear arms race in the sub-continent.”

While in India, Obama announced it would end most “dual use” technology restrictions, allowing India to buy material that could end up enhancing its military. The U.S. also agreed to sell $5.8 billion in military transport planes to New Delhi.

But of all these, the decision to avoid Kashmir may be the most dangerous and destabilizing.

Tensions over Kashmir go back to 1947, when India and Pakistan first came into being. At the time, largely Muslim Kashmir was ruled by a Hindu prince, who decided to go with India even though, under the British formula for dividing the two countries, Kashmir should have become part of Pakistan. When Pakistan responded by infiltrating soldiers into Kashmir, it touched off a war that, to one degree or other, has gone on for 63 years.

Today Kashmir is divided between the Northern Areas and Azad Kashmir held by Pakistan, and the Indian-controlled Kashmir and largely Hindu Jammu. A Line of Control that divides the two areas.

In 1989 Kashmiris staged a revolt, and Pakistan began infiltrating paramilitaries across the Line to attack Indian forces in Kashmir. That war dragged on until 2007, when Pakistan and India began secret back channel negotiations towards achieving a settlement. The talks, however, were scuttled when military dictator-turned-president Pervez Musharraf lost power, and militant jihadis attacked Mumbai in 2009, killing 165 people. India charged that Pakistan’s intelligence agency, the Inter-Service Directorate was behind the attack.

As difficult as the situation in Kashmir seems, according to journalist and writer Steve Coll, it is solvable and a failure to deal with it is dangerous. “The conflict has again and again spilled outside of Kashmir.”

Coll is a former reporter and editor at the Washington Post, author of numerous books on the Middle East and Central Asia, and president of the New American Foundation.

U.S. policy has been to keep Kashmir and Afghanistan as separate problems, but, Cole argues, “that policy is no longer consistent with the facts.” Muzamil Jaleel of the daily Indian Express agrees that the two countries “are linked so much now that India and Pakistan are fueling ethnic tension in Afghanistan.”

The current unrest in Kashmir, which has claimed more than 100 lives, is very different than the previous war. It is largely a non-violent movement composed almost exclusively of local Kashmiris rather than fighters infiltrated from Pakistan. It also has a strong contingent of young people, whose tech-savvy skills have put Kashmir’s resistance on the Internet. A decade ago Indian troops could wall off Kashmir. Today, the whole world is watching.

Cole contends the framework for a settlement is fairly straightforward.

First, India would have to rein it its 500,000 troops and paramilitaries. At the same time, the draconian Special Powers Act—originally designed to crush opposition to British rule in Ireland and currently used by the Israelis in the Occupied Territories—would have to be shelved. The laws give virtual immunity to widespread human rights violations by the Indian authorities and allow imprisonment without charges.

Second, the Line of Control would become an international border, but a porous one that allows free passage for Kashmiris.

Third, the residents of Kashmir and Jammu would be given a certain amount of local autonomy.

In the long run, the people of Kashmir ought to be able to hold a referendum about their future. The UN originally proposed such an undertaking, but first Pakistan and then India scotched it, fearful that residents might vote to join one or the other country. In fact, most residents would likely vote for independence.

An autonomous or even independent Kashmir is not only in the interests of the 10 million or so people that inhabit one of the most beautiful—and tragic—areas of the world, it would help defuse terrorism in Pakistan and India. To sacrifice that for what can only be a temporary alliance against an emerging China is profoundly short sighted.

Washington’s silence is no longer a viable option. “We are not asking the Americans to take a position against India and for Kashmir. We are just saying that there is a general recognition that India and Pakistan need to be pushed in terms of a dialogue,” Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, the spiritual leader of Kashmir’s separatists, told the Financial Times.

Others warn that Indian repression of the current non-violent movement might drive it to take up arms. “The status quo is not digestible for Kashmiris,” Sheikh Showkat Hussan, a Kashmir law professor, told the Financial Times.

Today, Kashmir is a vale of tears, a place capable of sparking off a nuclear war that would affect everyone on the globe. It need not be so.

–30–

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1 Comment

Filed under Afghanistan, Asia, Central Asia, India, Policy

One response to “Kashmir: Obama and the Vale of Tears

  1. COL. A.M.Khajawall [Ret]

    Thanks for your accurate and astute analysis of Kashmir and Indo-Kash-Pak-Afgan region. It is the real danger as you explained it. I thank you on behalf of the people of occupied kashmir.

    The foundation of Freedom has been initiated since 1947, they have sufferred,
    sacrificed, and struggled a lot. The people of kashmir will be triumphant in
    their struggle to seek freedom from brutal Indian troops and police.

    Some facts about Kashmir and its peoples freedom struggle.

    1. They started movement against Maharajah of Kashmir in 1931 to be free.2..
    When India and Pakistan got independence form Britain in 1947.3. Maharajah of
    Kashmir wanted to wanted to be independent and signed standstill agreement with
    Pakistan.4. The majority of border area of Kashmir wanted to join Pakistan and
    their wasrebellion and they almost took Kashmir.5. Maharajah of Kashmir sought
    help from India and they provided conditional help with the proviso that after
    the rebellion is contained, the people of Kashmir should be given chance to
    decide their future with out any fear, favor, and failure to decide their future
    whether to join India, Pakistan, and be Independent.6. The India troops now over
    two million rather than preserve & protect theirf reedom[s], became brutal
    occupiers and oppressors.7. It was India that brought Kashmir Peoples issue
    before the United NationsSecurity Council and pleaded, promised, pledged, and
    committed for the right of self determination for the people of Kashmir
    [Plebiscite].8. Their are several these resolutions pending before United
    nations SecurityCouncil.9. In April 1952 the United Nations Security Council
    appointed our Honorable late Admiral Nimitz, as the Plebiscite Administrator for
    the sole purpose to give the people of Kashmir their chance to decide their
    future without any fear, favor, and failure.10. Mean while Pakistan joined SEATO
    and CENTO military alliance with USA and India backed out claiming that late,
    Honorable Admiral Nimitz will favor Pakistan.11. India continued its brutal and
    tyrannical occupation of the people of Kashmir. Every time people rose up and
    demanded their freedom and right of self determination and they are brutally
    killed, ,maimed, imprisoned, caged, raped,jailed, and humiliated. Kashmir as a
    whole is a massive concentration camp on the top of world away from the eyes of
    concerned and just people of the world and globe.12. Current movement is non
    violent and lead by young generation of the fathers and grandfathers who see no
    safety, security, and future with India and extremely resent the fact that they
    are labeled terrorists by India and killed, detained, maimed,put under curfews,
    and humiliated on daily basis.13. There is a total and permanent alienation and
    anger against the repeated attempts to label their freedom movement as terrorist
    and foreign conspired.14. They simply want the brutal Indian troops to leave and
    let the people of Kashmir decide their right of self determination without any
    fear, favor, and failure.15. The the freedom movement in 1989, was lead by
    professionals such as Dr.Ashai, Dr. Guru, Lawyer Mian Qayum, Minority leader Mr.
    Vancho, and many more [Over one hundred thousand people of Kashmir 99 % innocent
    were murdered and killed by the brutal Indian troops].

    Summary: The people of Kashmir can not be denied their freedom for ever. If
    their freedom is again denied and delayed. Their sacrifices,
    sufferings and freedom struggle if ignored by India and world. They may
    turn them more extremist and fatalistic, that is and will be bad for Kashmir,
    India, Pakistan, and Indo-Kash-Pak -Afgan Subcontinent. More monies will be
    wasted and spent to keep people of Kashmir under brutal military occupation as
    well as bribing various people to show the world that every thing is OK in
    Kashmir. India will again say that the current freedom movement of is sponsored
    by foreign countries and extremists. [labels easily made]. Whole situation is
    extremly bad for India which claims to b e biggest democracy in the world, But
    when it comes to Kashmir Peoples freedom issue, their claim falls very
    clear,concise, and supported by UNSC documents. My concern is that India will
    not be given a Permanent Seat on United Nations Security Council as world powers
    will hold United Nations Security Council Resolutions against India permanent
    membership.

    My suggestion and solution to this complex Kashmir Peoples issue can be
    ameliorated and addressing by Erasing Line of Control [ LOC] and I call that as
    Line of Conflict [LOC]. Let Kashmir be designated as Common or Peace or Tourist
    Zone or Region. People of Kashmir, India, Pakistan, China, and world should be
    able to enter Kashmir without any hindrance and focus should be tourism,
    travel,trade, and mutual harmony. Over the period of time Kashmir occupation
    will end up and demilitarized will become reality. Kashmir will become like
    the Switzerland of the region. The need for nuclear weapons and huge armies
    will go away and monies will be used for education, infrastructure, energy
    independence, housing, sanitation, eliminationof poverty, disease, and
    infectious processes and population uplift and control & commonality.

    Yours truly,
    COL. A.M.Khajawall MD, [Rte]Practicing and Forensic Psychiatrist,
    First Secretary of Kashmir American Mission and Founding member of Kashmiri
    American .Born In Indian occupied Kashmir, US Citizen Since 1980.
    Email; ,khajawall@yahoo,com> & ,Address: PO BOX 97075 Las
    Vegas, Nevada, 89193-7075

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