Obama and Kashmiri Mindset
And Kashmiris keep hoping that Obama will rescue them
It is a mindset that has a history and also a rationale.Kashmiris: man in the street, researcher in his cubicle, scholars at campus, civil society associations and leaders of all shades of opinions were waiting with panting breaths for past more than a month for November six, the day when President Obama was expected to land at Bombay (Mumbai) airport. Overwhelming majority of Kashmiris expected him to talk in terse words ‘Kashmir’ to New Delhi.
The day, dates of his visit to India were announced, ripples were sent across Kashmir society throughout the world. Irrespective of geographical separation Kashmir society across the world sounded unanimous in their belief that the most powerful person in the world would ‘tell New Delhi to resolve Kashmir ‘dispute’ in its historical perspective to the aspirations of the people of this Himalayan state. The belief had got strengthened because of the international media more particularly the US press recognizing the fact that there has been ‘momentous transition’ from armed to peaceful and non-violent struggle in the state since year 2008. The four months “peaceful” struggle and killing of one hundred eleven youth and students had earned many sympathetic columns and writings in the West. Though muffled but there was a sympathetic wave in Washington for millions of people forced to live a “caged” life and deprived of medical and other facilities for months. The reports highlighting the deplorable Kashmir situation since June 11, in the New York Times, the Washington Post and the FP, that are counted instrumental in shaping the opinion in the Capitol Hill and White House had made many believe that the man from the Oval Office during his visit to the land of Gandhi- the man he reveres a lot will show his concern about ‘human rights’ situation in the state. It was this belief that had sent waves across the wide spectrum of Kashmir Diaspora and made to them to send petitions to him. The Kashmiri American Council mailed an online petition to thousands of Kashmiris living across the globe.
The petition calling for the resolution of the Kashmir dispute in keeping with the United National resolutions and taking some immediate steps for “improvement in human rights” situation was signed by about five thousand people. Many Kashmiri Americans pitched a tent outside the White House and had night long sit-in in support of demand for resolution of the Kashmir problem. Such camps were also organized in Brussels and UK by Kashmir Diasporas from both the side of the line of actual control. The All Parties Hurriyat Conference led by Mirwaiz Muhammad Umar Farooq and the Jammu and Kashmir Peoples League started signature campaign asking US President to nudge Indian leadership for resumption of serious dialogue with Pakistan for the finding an amicable settlement of Kashmir problem. Civil society organizations including the KCSDS, Srinagar and Coalition Kashmir Civil Society, and the International Tribunal on Human Rights presented memorandums to the US President seeking ‘mediation’ and ‘intervention’ for ‘ending human rights violations in the state and paving way for resolution of the dispute.’ It seemed that Kashmir civil society and leadership despite their reservations about the US role in Iraq and other parts of the world were one voice in calling upon Barrack Obama to play his role for the resolution of the dispute that has caused four wars between India and Pakistan, continues to considered as a nuclear flashpoint and is counted by eminent American scholars as ‘gateway to peace in the region’. Octogenarian leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani, who was a bitter critic of former American President George Bush for his ‘anti-Muslim policies also joined the popular Kashmir voice. For his criticizing Bush and calling him the ‘greatest terrorist’ of the world whose hands were drenched in the blood of millions of Muslim, he was denied Visa for treatment of in USA by Embassy in New Delhi. Taking a departure from his earlier stand on Washington he welcomed US President and wished him a fruitful Indo-American relation and expected his visit proving a “milestone for people of Kashmir in achieving their longstanding inalienable right to self-determination.”
It seems that the expectation that this visit had raised amongst overwhelming Kashmiris are not coming true. He has not talked Kashmir and made no reference to this important dispute during his two day stay. His predecessors in office Bill Clinton and even George W Bush looked at Kashmir as ‘world’s most dangerous place ’ and called its resolutions of this problem to the ‘aspiration of people of the state’, before and even during their visits to India.
The expectations of larger sections of the state with US President are not amateurish but they are deeply entrenched in the history of the sixty two year old dispute. It is true that America had no interest in Kashmir before 1947, despite the British Empire raising alarms that the Communists in the North of this strategically located state could use it as corridor for knocking the doors of British Empire in New Delhi. The US catapulted to the centre stage of Kashmir dispute only after the issue of accession of the state was taken by India to the United Nations Security council on January 1, 1948. It was the United States that had co-sponsored the UN resolution regarding allowing people of the state to exercise their right to self-determination and supported all the subsequent resolutions by the Security Council including the 1957 resolution that denied recognizing the Jammu and Kashmir constituent assembly including all its actions thereafter.
It was not only historical place and involvement of Washington in the dispute that had raised the expectations amongst Kashmiris there were a few other important factors that had strengthened the people’s beliefs of US President playing a greater and effective role in the resolution of the “dispute”. The important factors were Obama were person of Obama and his earlier commitments and understanding about Kashmir dispute.
In 2008 Obama won election, people in Kashmir like others in third world were delighted. As a former Pakistan Ambassador to US has put it “A smart, young, articulate, progressive, committed and persuasive person had replaced the unspeakable Bush and beaten the opportunist Clinton and the militarist McCain.” He was black those conversant the Black literature including that by Noble Laureate Toni Morrison and the Journey into America by Akbar Ahmed understand what it meant- he ‘was someone who knew what it was like to be a victim of prejudice, discrimination, violation and dehumanization’. He was one President who before occupying the oval office knew what Kashmir problem was all about and realized its importance to stability in the most volatile region in South Asia. His statements and interviews during the campaign beyond doubt testify it. He is on record having talked about appointment of US envoy on Kashmir. He is in India when he has suffered a setback and seems destined to be one- time President like President Carter unless a turns the tide during next two years. It is true that so far his India visit is diminished to the role of business envoy and not as a world leader. The New York Times in its editorial on Saturday reminding President of being global leaders asked him, “India would gain credibility and make the world safer if it worked harder to reduce tensions with Pakistan. The Indians have made clear that they don’t want Washington as a mediator. Mr. Obama still needs to nudge India to resume serious talks with Pakistan over Kashmir and take other steps to help calm Pakistan’s fears including pursuing a trade agreement”.
In public estimation in USA and outside President Obama has lost his number one position to Chinese leader Hu Jintao – he and not Obama is now counted as most powerful man in the world. Many opinion makers have arrived at the conclusion: “Beijing is more powerful than Washington. The People’s Liberation Army has not become stronger than the Pentagon, but the Chinese treasury is certainly a safer bet than American treasury bonds.”
The question arises is that if Washington was going to surrender its role as peace broker between Pakistan and India on Kashmir and yield a great space to Beijing? And if it wants to leave Afghanistan without resolving Kashmir dispute that many even amongst his aides believe was the main portal to peace in the region.
China has been making far greater gestures towards Kashmir including ‘staple visa’ and denial of visa to an Indian army general working in Kashmir. It is a different story these gestures have failed to find takers in Kashmir- and the mindset of Kashmir leaders has not changed. It is yet to dawn upon Kashmir society and leadership that in the changed global scenario Beijing was more powerful than Washington. The expectations of Kashmir leaders with Obama suggest the thinking of Kashmir leaders continues to be captive of the past- when USA vociferously supported Kashmir in the United Nations Security Council.
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