The President is scheduled to visit India on November 6. It is Mr. Obama’s first visit to India. He visited China earlier. The purpose of the visit has to do more with the domestic economic realities and the quagmire of Afghanistan war, than with the use of his leadership for world peace and better understanding among the people. We wish him luck in the trip, knowing full well that there is less to be gained by the American people than by the Indians in this trip.
In the latest visits of the three most recent presidents, these visits have had a different dynamic, namely by the well paid Indian lobbyists. Presidents Clinton and Bush achieved precious little with their visits to India for the American public, while they gave away a lot away in the form of IT and manufacturing jobs to India. We should not expect to achieve too much more from Mr. Obama’s visit. The premise of the visit remains the same, thus the outcome should not be expected to be different. More importantly, the eagerness of all recent presidents to visit India ignores and indeed promotes Indian belligerency and tyrannical conduct against the people in the region, particularly Kashmir. Engaging India in private regarding Kashmir, while lavishing praise in public is hardly likely to change it evil behavior.
Sadly, the president will be visiting India at a time when it is being seen by the world community as perpetrating state terrorism against peaceful rallies and protests in Kashmir. Never before has India been caught so ill prepared to defend its barbaric actions in its post-colonialist existence. Since Kashmir’s 6/11, when the new phase of the peaceful ‘Quit Kashmir’ movement started, 111 innocent civilians, some as young as 7 have been put to death by Indian Military and Paramilitary forces in the Valley. The liberation struggle has gained new international recognition and respect. India is coming under increasing pressure not only from the international community, but also from intellectuals, human rights activists, mainstream politicians and the civil society within India. It is facing condemnation from many unexpected quarters after a long period of silence.
The meteoric rise to prominence of the much revered veteran politician, Syed Ali Geelani has sharpened the focus of the liberation movement. Kashmiris have demonstrated to the world that Mr. Geelani speaks for them and other political leaders have not taken issue with that approach. No longer is there any confounding talk of internal autonomy; division along religious, ethnic or geographic lines or divvying up the Jammu and Kashmir between India and Pakistan. The emphasis now is on the exercise of the right of self-determination by all segments of the society in a transparent, unfettered and unambiguous way. That is the only democratic way to ascertain the true wishes and aspirations of the majority. That is the 21st century solution of a nation’s fate. This is the only certain way to prevent the use of coercion, regional hegemony and intra- and post-freedom civil unrest and mutual bloodshed. If Mr. Geelani, who possesses rare qualities of a religious scholar, a humanist and a consummate politician, is to be taken at his words, and his track record has gives us no reason not to, then there is hope that the Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists and Sikhs of Jammu and Kashmir have a good possibilty to be part of a future pluralistic State of Jammu and Kashmir.
The reemergence of Jammu and Kashmir as a sovereign state in South Asia appears to be more inevitable now, than at any time in the last 63 years. There are several reasons to support this assertion. Kashmiris are more determined than ever to see their struggle to be taken to its logical conclusion—azaadi through self-determination. Indian military’s tools of terror have been blunted by the peaceful resistance of the masses on the streets across the Valley. The local administration in Kashmir supported by New Delhi has lost control over the society as well as the security forces. Chief Minister Omar Abdullah has effectively been side-lined, by Syed Ali Geelani on one side and the military rulers on the other. No one listens to him anymore. Orders to deal with the situation created by the ‘quit Kashmir movement’ come straight from New Delhi-appointed officers, primarily the intelligence agencies and security forces.
New Delhi’s policies on Kashmir have entered a new era of confusion and inaction. Under moral pressure from the non-violent civil disobedience on part of the ‘quit Kashmir’ movement on one side, and the blind opposition from the jingoistic right wing Hindu parties; the government in New Delhi has hunkered down with its outdated policy in Kashmir. It called an All Parties meeting at Prime minister, Manmohan Singh’s request, then sent an All Parties delegation to Kashmir and finally dispatched three interlocutors to Kashmir on a fact finding mission, or whatever. None of these steps has made a change on the ground. While New Delhi is digging its head in the sand, Kashmir revolution is sapping its military muscle and loosening its occupational grip.
More and more people of conscience are speaking out against the Indian tyranny in Kashmir. Last week’s televised speeches of Kashmiri leader Syed Ali Geelani and the renowned novelist and human rights activist; Arundhati Roy in New Delhi, calling for plebiscite in Kashmir, shook the conscience of India and the world around. We don’t know if it has impacted the Obama administration’s thinking any or not. It should have. It certainly will cause a lot of disappointment among the Kashmiris and among those who are outraged by the Indian suppression in Kashmir. Now that the president is going to be in the region, he may want to pay attention to the cries of pain and the voices of freedom coming from next door Kashmir. It would be in keeping with the promise he made in his historic speech in Cairo that he would empathize with the suffering of the Muslims and try to undo the wrong done to them. If he fails to raise the Kashmir issue with the Indian authorities publicly, it will deal a serious blow to his image and the American leadership in the region. It will further alienate the Muslims from America, something that we can ill afford at a time when America and the Muslim world are drifting apart quickly. Ignoring the plight of Kashmiris will be seen as a terrible gesture of greed at the cost of human welfare, something unbecoming of a leader who came to power by promising to change the world for the better for all people. He had promised to engage India and Pakistan on Kashmir in order to bring the war in Afghanistan to an end, but he has failed to do so, at least thus far.
Kashmir is important for many reasons; the nuclear flash point, the improbability of ending the Afghanistan war, stability in Pakistan and India and the regional prosperity. But, the most important reason to address the Kashmir issue earnestly is for the sake of Kashmir itself. Kashmiris have given immense sacrifices for freedom. They have been tormented and tortured for 63 years. Their nation has been divided by force between India and Pakistan. UN Security Council Resolutions on Kashmir have been gathering dust since they were passed in 1948. Major world powers have paid no heed to their obligations to the people of Kashmir. It is about time they did take some action collectively and individually and tell India to resolve the issue of Kashmir before it aspires to be a permanent member of the UN Security Council. It will be a travesty of justice if India were to gain Security Council membership while it has flouted its resolutions for 62 years. The institution which already suffers from credibility deficit will become a laughable club of world dictators.
President Obama has an historic opportunity to show his real leadership. If he confronts the Indians and holds their feet to fire for their inhumane their behavior in Kashmir, he will achieve an unprecedented legacy of statesmanship and political courage. Signing economic packages with India will only hurt the American working class which has been losing jobs to low-paid Indian workers. That is no legacy to be proud of. Signing nuclear deals with India for what President Bush laughingly once called ‘delicious Indian mangoes’ is a sinister act, in and of itself. It is a horrific deal between any two nations, whether it is between US and India or between Iran and Russia. It will be a terrible legacy of which he should not be proud of. The president must put human rights first and economic interests next. His administration must take a page from the courageous act of the famed Indian novelist and human rights activist Arundhati Roy who is speaking out even as she is facing the threat of sedition charges from his own government for speaking against its atrocities and denial of freedom in Kashmir. The president of the United States has the giving hand and Indians have the receiving hand. There is no reason why a courageous president cannot assert his leadership and ask India to honor its commitment to the people of Kashmir. With increasing American investments, India is more dependent on the US now than ever before. US can influence the Indian mindset and force it to bow to the demands of the Kashmiris. Continued economic engagement should be tied to improvement in human and political rights in Kashmir.
The Obama administration must realize that the ground situation in Kashmir has dramatically changed in the last four months (the 6/11 of Kashmir). India has completely and irreversibly lost its legitimacy to rule over Kashmir. The administration is being caught flat-footed in its Kashmir policy. The change of policy on Kashmir that occurred in the last decade is being discredited by the events on the ground. American policy used to be based on the principle of UN resolutions, recognizing Kashmir as a disputed state. That principled stand changed after 9/11 tragedy.
The new policy of containment of Pakistan and pacification of the restive Kashmiri society was a cynical ploy on the part of policymakers here. It needs to change back to the way it was. Further, an even-handed policy needs to be more aggressively pursued if there is to be durable peace and stability in the region. President Obama can do it and save his legacy, or go down in history as President George W. Bush did, when he ignored the plight of the oppressed and sold sensitive nuclear technology to India in exchange for ‘sweet mangoes’. Had Mr. Bush helped Kashmiris in gaining freedom he could have achieved a lasting legacy and with it basketfuls of delicious Kashmiri apples for less.
So, the choices are clear for the president: side with perpetrators of murder, mayhem, massacre and gang rapes and go down in history with an unenviable legacy of siding with the wicked, or side with the oppressed, and leave a lasting legacy of a noble statesman and a courageous leader of a super power. Which one shall it be Mr. President? We hope and pray that it shall be the latter.