The event -after all – is in conflict with Kashmir narrative
Michael Steiner will be the first German who will make it to the footnotes of contemporary Kashmir history. If it could be for good or bad reasons, judgment may be left to history. During the past sixty-five years, he is the first German Ambassador in South Asia who for his “contentious” activities in Kashmir- an internationally recognized nuclear flashpoint and “oldest dispute” on UNSC agenda, has made it to the headlines in the Srinagar press and caused editorials and number of opinion columns in newspapers.
Historically American, British and Russian ambassadors and diplomats in New Delhi so far enjoyed the privilege of making to the headlines in the Srinagar press and becoming part of the peoples discourse. Diplomats of these countries became part of the public debate in Jammu and Kashmir for their involving directly and indirectly in the Kashmir dispute by issuing statements, reiterating the stand of their countries on the dispute and holding one to one meetings with the Kashmir leaders. Exchanging notes on possible resolution of the Kashmir problem and on occasion playing mediatory role for one or other party to the dispute. Some meetings not only caused controversies but also changed the course of history and politics of the state. Some diplomats endeared themselves to people for voicing their concerns about human rights violations in the state. Nevertheless, these very envoys became bête noire for the power centers in New Delhi.
Initially, at the time of partition of India, the United States and its people were ‘profoundly’ ignorant about the dynamics of Kashmir problem. It was averse to the idea of independent Kashmir piloted by Maharaja of Kashmir. It had cautioned its officials not to do anything that would suggest further balkanization of the sub-continent. The United State interest in Kashmir developed only after India took Kashmir to the United Nations. Moreover, from that day British and American diplomats started working in tandem on Kashmir. “Washington, the US mission to the United Nations and the American Embassy in New Delhi and Karachi became deeply involved in Kashmir issue. The point man for America was Warren W. Austin.” In fact, Austin was the man who encouraged Sheikh Abdullah when during his visit to the Security Council as a part of Indian delegation mooted the idea of Independent Kashmir. Abdullah mooted the idea of Independent Kashmir in two subsequent meetings with US Ambassador in India Loy Henderson. In fifties Russian diplomats visited Kashmir ostensibly for promoting culture and intentions of such visits became clear only in 1955, when Nikita Khrushchev and Nikolai Bulganin visited Kashmir and announced that the people of Jammu and Kashmir had already decided their future by joining with India. The conventional welcome accorded to the guests by taking them through the city in a river procession and cultural shows organized by schoolchildren and professional artist was presented internationally as support to the Soviet stand of using veto against resolution of Kashmir through democratic referendum. In 1996, when priorities of Washington in the region had changed and tilted towards India, USA Ambassador in India, Frank Wisner by asking Hurriyat Conference to participate in the elections played New Delhi’s card in the state. His move proved counterproductive and resulted people overwhelmingly boycotting these elections.
It may not be possible in this column to recap the role played by American, British, Russian and diplomats of other countries during their visits to Kashmir. And how on many occasions even their innocuous and apolitical moves ran counter to the political urges and aspirations of overwhelming majority of people. The idea behind quoting Loy Henderson’s meeting followed by two luncheon meetings with Sheikh Abdullah that ostensibly had caused his dismissal and arrest or the visit of Russian leaders to Kashmir or Frank Wisner’s role is only to suggest that role of all diplomats irrespective of their positions in respective embassies has always been political. Even under the façade of culture.
Michael Steiner has been representing his country Germany in India for past seventeen months. Not much was heard about his diplomatic activities in New Delhi vis-à-vis Kashmir before he made a history of sorts in diplomatic world by donning himself as a cultural activists and announcing organizing of first ever-international musical concert in Kashmir. The German Ambassador has been working on the idea of organizing the international event, in which Bombay based international music icon Zubin Mehta, ‘director for life of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra will be conducting Munich-based Bavarian State Orchestra.
Performing in Kashmir has been an old wish with music maestro as he told in an interview with New Delhi based magazine he will traveling with message of peace to this land:
‘I have wanted to make music there a long time. Nevertheless, I had to take into consideration the continuing crisis there. It breaks my heart. Recently, when Indian military personnel were killed at the LoC, I was so upset. It was so unnecessary. Sending message of peace is the only thing that we want out of this performance. We want people to understand how sincere we are in transmitting this message.’
Music maestros’ statement is not different from the stated position of government in New Delhi on Kashmir. However, German Ambassador seems highly passionate about the event. During past one year, he visited Srinagar seven times and perhaps many more times to Munich. And looking at the workload involved in organizing such a mega event it seems that he has taken it as full time job. Is it ambassador’s passion for music behind organizing ninety minutes event or he is pursuing some hidden agenda. More than once, he has described the event as purely apolitical and cultural. But, the event in itself is a collage of question marks and contradictions.
On the one side, Germany as a founding member of the European Parliament is signatory to many resolutions on human rights situation Kashmir including the one that was passed one on 24 May 2013 and on the other side, it is sending a message around the globe by beaming the event fifty countries that everything is hunky-dory in Kashmir. Seen in right perspective the event is in conflict with Kashmir narrative.