Richard Holbrooke died last week. In Washington he was known ‘as brilliant, feisty, pragmatic and purpose-driven’. President Barrack Obama in his obituary note called him “a true giant of American foreign policy, a truly unique figure who will be remembered for his tireless diplomacy, love of country and pursuit of peace." He understood ‘place of force in diplomacy’. He had a wonderful track record of pursuing the agenda of his country in the world. He was passionately involved in bringing about peace in Afghanistan, the newspaper report said that while he was being taken for surgery of his ruptured aorta he told his Pakistani doctor that peace in Afghanistan was much needed . The New York Times columnist Roger Cohen in an obituary column wrote about him “Now Holbrooke, too, has gone out “with his boots on,” as his wife Kati Marton told me, trying to end another war in Afghanistan. Will somebody assume his mantle as Holbrooke took up Frasure’s, (who died in an accident during Bosnia war) with that fire”. Americans’ rightfully mourned the death of one of their best diplomats. Should Kashmiris also mourn his death?
Mirwaiz Umar Farooq statement that Holbrooke was working for the resolution of Kashmir raised the question in my mind: Does Holbrooke’s death deserve to be mourned across 84000 Sq Kilometers of Jammu and Kashmir. In this column many a time in the past I wrote how Kashmir problem barged in US foreign policy not stealthily but with a bang in 1947 – immediately after the birth of what Alastair Lamb called as “a tragedy”. I also wrote in the past how USA looked for a bigger role in Jammu and Kashmir after Warren Austin United States representative had a meeting With Sheikh Abdullah. Sheikh had gone as part of Indian delegation. Jawaharlal Nehru’s personal secretary O.M. Mathai in his book has castigated Sheikh for his role in UN.
Many times I sounded more optimistic than needed. I drew buoyancy and hope for my arguments not out of my belief in Washington upholding Jeffersonian principles or feeling concerned about people of Jammu and Kashmir who have been suffering uncertainty for past sixty three years but for its’ often articulated South-Asia policy. Historically speaking US Kashmir policy has had its crests and troughs, as well as the peaks and valleys of the state. It inherited the fears of Britain about possible invasion of Russia into the Sub-Continent through the northern areas of the State. For these fears gaining strength Kashmir had attained centrality in US South Asia policy during the cold war. ‘Significance of Kashmir, as the guardian of India’s northern frontier’ in fact brought the land under international focus as a strategic place more than a hundred year before the birth of India and Pakistan as independent dominions. This significance assumed more importance after first and second world wars. And it attained new heights during the cold war. Its importance increased after the Russian Occupation of Afghanistan. Its importance had a temporarily declined after Soviet Union withdrawal from Kabul. The United States interest got renewed in Kashmir after the rise of Taliban and 9/11 incident. Adventurism of Bush administration embroiled Afghanistan in a quagmire and to come out the State Department started talking about regional approach for resolving the problems in the region and the policy broadly came to be known as APK (Afghanistan-Pakistan and Kashmir) policy.
During Barrack Obama’s 2008 election campaign, the subtle APK acronym became a part of campaign. The ‘resolution of Kashmir dispute holds key for enduring peace in South Asia’ became the catchphrase of US South Asia policy. It continued to be so after the Democratic candidate won the election. ‘The appointment of the former President Bill Clinton as an envoy for India and Pakistan for resolution of the Kashmir dispute seemed on the cards. New Delhi opposed appointment of any envoy in Kashmir. It Delhi had not a good experience with Bill Clinton administration during his presidency. India remembered Clinton for his calling Kashmir most dangerous place in the world, a nuclear flashpoint and in his address at the UN General Assembly equating it many other important international dispute. The Clinton administration in South Block continued to be remembered for ‘nightmarish’ days of Robin Raphael then Assistant Secretary of State, during early nineties. She had got Kashmir declared as ‘disputed territory’ by Washington. To this day she continues to be bête noire for many in New Delhi establishment and they remember as lady behind the birth of Jammu and Kashmir Hurriyat Conference. Ironically the proposed appointment of the former president had not brought in ‘luster on the faces of Pakistan establishment but in Kashmir it was seen as a way forward. New Delhi not only appointed expensive lobbyists to counter the move but also deputed a large number of diplomats to Washington. Quoting mass participation in 2008 election as the state as restoring rights of people and democracy in the state it countered the move and convinced the White House about engagement with Pakistan for finding a lasting solution of the dispute.
Instead of Bill Clinton, President Obama appointed Richard C Holbrooke as special envoy to South Asia. He was expected to be US envoy APK. The appointment of Holbrooke as Special US envoy for Kashmir had generated lot of optimism in Kashmir. The optimism in Kashmir was on two counts one, President Barrack Obama’s statements on Kashmir and Second for internationally recognized diplomatic skills of Holbrooke and his role in September 21, 1995 Dayton Accords. President Obama had ‘repeatedly said that ending Indo-Pak differences over Kashmir was one of the keys to calming tensions in South Asia and winning the war on terror. It seemed that the resolution of Kashmir dispute would be topping the agenda of the first non-white President of greatest democracy in the world. The Dayton Accords by Holbrooke that had ended the Bosnian war –‘Europe’s worst conflict since World War II that had gone too far by 1995: the 100,000 dead, the three-way ethnic divisions traced in blood, the Srebrenica massacre of Muslims something that seemed impossible.’
Holbrooke surely understood importance of peace in South Asian region and how it could be secured only by addressing long-term and neglected problems. There were stories that he understood that much as the Palestinian issue remains the core obstacle to peace in the Middle East, the resolution of Kashmir dispute held key for peace in South Asia. He like Ahmed Rashid recognized Kashmir as gateway to peace in Afghanistan. In an article published in the Washington Post on 28 January 2009, Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari welcoming the appointment of Mr. Holbrooke had written, ‘Appointing the seasoned diplomat Richard Holbrooke says much about the president’s worldview and his understanding of the complexities of peace and stability and the threats of extremism and terrorism. Simply put, we must move beyond rhetoric and tackle the hard problems.’ It is now part of history India worked hard to see Kashmir removed from the Holbrooke diplomatic portfolio. Whether it was triumph of India’s clout in Washington or Islamabad’s knee jerking attitude towards Capitol Hill that changed APK to Af-Pak and reduced Kashmir to just K-word in most of the statements of Holbrooke the fact remains that despite his not being publicly involved Kashmir he had not delinked Kashmir from his mission of bringing peace in Afghanistan. Kashmir is not now only linked to Afghanistan, we may dislike or like the idea but truth remains that it has attained centrality in global policy in the region. It was at the centre of discussion during President Barrack Obama’s recent visit to New Delhi- the visit might have earned some economic benefits for USA but on a political and diplomatic front it was a ‘flop show’. So is true of the three visit of Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao to New Delhi. China Premier despite lot of media hype by MEA did not promise changing its policy of staple visa for Kashmir- indicating that does not recognize Indian sovereignty over Kashmir. The visit indicated that Kashmir had become a barb in the relations between India and China that could ‘escalate a military tension between the two countries. Guardian London commenting on the visit of Chinese Premier wrote “India has refused to reaffirm its support for Beijing’s sovereignty over Tibet and Taiwan in a growing diplomatic row over Kashmir which experts fear could fuel military tensions between Asia’s largest powers.”
Holbrooke’s death is a setback to ending war in Afghanistan but it equally does not augur well for Kashmir.
(Feedback at email@example.com)