Obama's India Visit

Are Kashmiris really waiting for President Barak Obama’s visit to New Delhi in November?  Do they really want to tell him their woeful tale and look for a positive intervention from him for ending their sixty three year old pain and agony? Has the 87 days long agitation something to do with his visit? Is Kashmir leadership, spearheading the agitation more particularly Syed Ali  Geelani  conscious of the   importance of US President’s visit to South-Asian stability and its relationship to the resolution of Kashmir problem? These questions crossed my mind some days back on reading a very long article on Kashmir situation in the Wall Street Journal by Ashok K Mehta, a retired Major General of Indian Army’s Gurkha Regiment. Mehta believes that in the wake of past two months Kashmir situation Pakistan’s attitude towards dialogue with India has stiffened. He writes, “A few months ago, Pakistan was virtually begging India to restart the dialogue process between the two governments, suspended after the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attack.”   Why did Islamabad’s attitude change?” Believing that answer to Pakistan’s changed attitude lies in two cities: Srinagar and Kabul, he writes  “With 62 civilian deaths in the ongoing rioting in the capital city Srinagar and two districts, over the past couple months Kashmir has witnessed a fresh uprising against the symbols of the state. Kashmiris are using every avenue they have—from stones to the Internet—to demand aazadi, or freedom. The mostly spontaneous upheaval involves young men, women and even children.” Believing that the ‘civilian strife in Kashmir will only strengthen Pakistan’s case that resumption on Kashmir will enable a more focused fight against the Taliban on the Western Frontier. The author in his own right has analyzed and criticized New Delhi’s Kashmir policy. Calling upon New Delhi   ‘to start from scratch in rolling back alienation by reaching out to youth’, he sees stopping of stone-pelting as priority for Delhi. He asks UPA government “to do something before U.S. President Barack Obama’s scheduled visit in November.”

The question arises why former Indian Army General has asked New Delhi to do something before the visit of the U.S. President to India. His implicit apprehensions about Kashmir becoming one of the dominant subjects for discussions during the visit are not without reason. Truth is that presence of Washington in Kashmir dispute is felt throughout its history. It was the United States that had co-sponsored the 1948 U.N. resolution guaranteeing right to self-determination to the people of Jammu and Kashmir. Ever since the passing of this resolution United State’s interest in the dispute has been for a variety of reason- and these have been changing. In the wake of withdrawal of the Soviet Union from Afghanistan, Washington’s priorities in the region also changed and it wanted to ‘enhance relations with India.’ In keeping with its changed priorities in South Asia it no more wanted to intervene in Kashmir. As very rightly said by Shirin Tahir Kheli, “Washington was unwilling to insert itself in the squabbles of the sub-continent but was determined to halt the spread of nuclear weapons.” And it was convinced that Americans best national interests would be best served by a policy aimed at diminishing these historic tensions- of course Kashmir being the one. In 1993, the Bill Clinton administration, as was evident by the statements made by Assistant Secretary of State Rabin Raphel, Secretary of State, Madeline Albright   and President Clinton at various international forums was more interested in the resolution of Kashmir problem than his predecessors in office.

It is a matter of study why the Clinton administration’s interest in the resolution failed to translate into something perceptible. Ostensibly, it seems that it suffered more at Pakistan wavering Foreign Policy and Benazir Bhutto, then Pakistan Prime Minister looking towards Iran as mediator on Kashmir between her country and India. I for one believe that this was faux pas of Benazir government. Kashmir even after the end of the Clinton administration did figure ritualistically in the statement, even President Bush more than once called for the resolution of Kashmir to the aspirations of its people but for his being more friendly to New Delhi than to USA’s strategic partner in “war on terror”, there was no major US initiative for the resolution of Kashmir dispute.

In the wake of 2008, when victory for Barrack Obama in the Presidential election seemed on cards, it seemed that US policy on Kashmir will undergo a paradigm shift. The debate started with the publication of a paper, “From Great Game to Grand Bargain- Ending Chaos in Afghanistan and Pakistan’ by Barnett R Rubin and Ahmed Rashid, in Prestigious US Journal Foreign Affairs. The duo was known part of the Obama think tank. In this long and well analyzed paper the authors had seen resolution of Kashmir as key to the resolution in Afghanistan and durable peace in South Asia.  This thesis put by the two authors was certified during campaign in an interview by Barrack Obama in an interview with MSNBC by suggesting that his administration would encourage India to solve the Kashmir dispute with Pakistan, so that Islamabad can better cooperate with the United States on Afghanistan.  This he reiterated even after occupying White House. The appointment of a US special envoy on Kashmir seemed on cards and the name most talked for this position was former US President Bill Clinton. When US appointed Richard Holbrooke as its envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan contrary to expectation Kashmir was not part of his brief. India did resist the move but seen in the right perspective more than Indian lobbying it were the terrorist attacks in Mumbai that dampened US initiative on Kashmir. Notwithstanding Kashmir not being tagged to Holbrook’s brief analyst both in India and Pakistan did at time believe that India-Pakistan and Kashmir will be part of the initiative. These analyses have so far failed. Washington for past two years has not taken any major initiative for the resolution of Kashmir. It only has been at intervals nudging New Delhi and Islamabad for resumption of composite dialogue and resolving all outstanding issues and no moving beyond.

Looking at the visit   in this perspective the question arises that will the ongoing agitation in the state trigger a serious discussion between US President and Indian leadership at  New Delhi for the resolution of Kashmir problem to the aspiration of people between him and Indian leadership. On the face of it there seem no relation between the ongoing agitations in Kashmir to the visit of the US President as hinted by the former General in his article but there are moves by Kashmir Diaspora at the international level to draw his attention toward Kashmir situation. Kashmiri American Council has put an online petition for President Barrack Obama for his intervention  on http://www.petitiononline.com/kashmir1/petition.html. The petition has put seven points for improving situation and called upon him to influence both India and Pakistan to initiate a peace process with which the United Nations as well as the people of Jammu & Kashmir will be associated so as to ensure that settlement arrived at will be based on the indisputable principles of justice.  A group of eleven British Parliamentarians has sought urgent US intervention for halting suffering of the people of Jammu and Kashmir. In a letter they have sought an appointment with President Obama for discussing Kashmir problem with him.  Many US lawmakers including some eminent voices like Dennis Kucinich, Joe Pitts and Don Burton of late have been highly critical of US administration for maintaining silence on Kashmir and have been urging for a proactive role.

It is a pertinent question if Obama during his visit to New Delhi breaks his long silence on Kashmir and impress upon the host country to resolve this problem on the basis of justice, fair play to the aspiration of people for ensuring lasting peace in the region. In view of US interests in India, Kashmir in all likelihood not be on the publicized agenda but given the issue emerging in the region more particularly Afghanistan and Sino-Indian relation    issue will attract for more greater attention than expected.

 The United State’s is worried about increasing influence of China in the region.  China for the past couple of years has taken a tough posture on Kashmir and has been causing diplomatic  embarrassment to New Delhi, the recent one being denial of visa  Indian army Lt Gen B.S. Jaswal, who was part of an official delegation. China   has been looking for role in the resolution of Kashmir and President Obama will make his endeavor to snatch this initiative from the most important Asian power.

(Feedback at zahidgm@greaterkashmir.com)