Red Herring For Obama



November six is the D-day for New Delhi. That is the impression   one gets about the visit of US President, Barrack Obama to India on this day.  He is arriving in country’s commercial capital, Mumbai    when majority of Indians would be celebrating Diwali- festival of lights and most of North India would be drowned in lights.  A word has been very subtly  sent across  by the government ‘Save some of those firecrackers if you are a fan of Barack Obama and/or a votary of better India-U.S ties’ to greet the US president.

 What makes New Delhi so excited is the question that haunts the public mind. Is the thrill over  the expectations of the summit helping in deepening America’s commercial relations with this country, strengthen US-India nuclear partnership and support American jobs- a vital question  that has been under debate for the past many weeks or something beyond. Many New Delhi based journalists and television anchors have been deriving pleasure out of Islamabad not being part of his twelve days tour. Besides India he will be visiting Indonesia, Japan and South Korea.  It is believed that this visit has been promoted more because of ‘China’s assertive stance’ and not because of the situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Many Indian writers have been attributing deletion of Pakistan from President’s itinerary for Islamabad’s stronger ties with Beijing.  The thrill and excitements in New Delhi   seems dampened for its reports about Kashmir topping the agenda of the US President during his visit. Indian diplomatic corp. in Washington has been working over night for seeing Kashmir not dominating the visit. The worry got doubled for the worsening situation in Kashmir during past four   that got wide coverage in the US and European press and invoked statements of concern from some US Congressmen. The efforts of diplomats were strengthened by a large contingent from New Delhi that included External Affairs Minister, S.M. Krishnan, National Security Advisor, Shiv Shanker Menon and Foreign Secretary Nirpuma Rao.

 It is a big question if the team that camped in Washington for many days has  succeeded in getting K-dispute deleted from the agenda or not. But if the face book postings on the subject are taken as an indicator amidst skepticism an overwhelming majority in Kashmir have pinned hopes with the visit. The belief continues to be with many in Srinagar and New Delhi that the sixty year old dispute that has caused three wars between India and Pakistan, continues to be a nuclear flashpoint in the region and counted by many American think tank as one of the causes for terrorism will be at the top of agenda of US President during his visit to New Delhi.  These hopes were strengthened when two junior diplomats visited past week Srinagar immediately after The Times of India carried a lead  story: “Obama’s pitch: Fix Kashmir for UN Security Council seat”, quoting top White House sources the report had  said that President Barrack Obama during his upcoming November visit to India will tell Indian leadership to ‘go for Kashmir solution and help bring stability to the region and the United States will support India’s candidature to the UN Security Council. I am not going discuss in this column why the team of US diplomats was selective in its meeting with Kashmir leadership and civil society. The team did not visit Syed Ali Shah Geelani nor invited independent members of the civil society to their meetings. Apart from the selective meeting creating doubts in public minds about their visit and agenda they carried with them the news report in ToI had set an upbeat mood in beleaguered Kashmir.  

It appeared at a time when   India and Pakistan were engaged in a war of words   in the United Nations General Assembly over the future of this picturesque Himalayan state.  Pakistan at United Nations urged international community to persuade India to end its repression in Kashmir to pave the way for settling the decades-old dispute.  These developments with all skepticism had “turned ashen faces of Kashmiris living a caged life under curfew for past over hundred days; rubicund. 

 It is not at the spur of the moment that President Obama has entered into Kashmir narrative but India has been wary of his presence ever since he mentioned Kashmir during his campaign.  Many Kashmir ‘experts’ including  a former Indian Army General asked New Delhi to do something about Kashmir before the visit of the US President. It suggests that he is apprehensive of Kashmir becoming one of the dominant subjects for discussions during the visit.    Truth is that presence of Washington in Kashmir dispute is felt throughout its sixty three year old history. It was the US that had co-sponsored the 1948 UN resolution guaranteeing right to self-determination to the people of Jammu and Kashmir. Not my disagreement with Howard Schaffer for his formula for the resolution of Kashmir dispute his book ‘Limits of Influence’ gives a kaleidoscopic view of presence of US in the history of Kashmir dispute.  His book along with other books by people by Reobert Wirsing and Shirin Tahir Kheli sufficiently show us that New Delhi parroting mantra of ‘bilateralism,’ Washington has been present in all talks held by India and Pakistan for the resolution of Kashmir dispute as a mediator.  The presence is not felt between 1950 and 1971 only when Kashmir dominated discussions at the United Nations Security Council. It is a fact that in the wake of withdrawal of the former 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 Subcontinent but was determined to halt the spread of nuclear weapons.”

Let me reiterate what I have written earlier the United States is largely convinced that Americans   national interests would be best served by a policy aimed at diminishing these historic tensions – of course Kashmir being the one.  This in fact is what Barrack Obama   one of the bright minds from the United States had learnt from history when during his election campaign he had seen resolution of Kashmir dispute as gateway to peace in one of the most volatile and dangerous regions in the world. Barrack Obama campaign speeches about the disputes like Palestine and Kashmir placed him in the company the great founding fathers- like George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and Benjamin Franklin, known for their pluralistic outlook.

True, the Kashmir leadership more particularly those dissenting with New Delhi’s stand about the Kashmir dispute are yet to respond to the visit. There has not been any statement from any of the two Hurriyat faction or JKLF. However, the statement made by the Chief Minister, Omar Abdullah on the floor of the Assembly has highlighted partial historicity of the dispute yet there is an emphasis for the resolution of the dispute for bringing in lasting peace in the region in it. His statement may be seen in dissent with the statement made by Foreign Minister Krishnan in the Security Council but it is largely it is in sync with the dominant thinking in Washington that was amply manifest in a an article   “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 as a part of the Obama think-tank. Despite New Delhi intense lobbying having prevailed upon White House in not appointing an envoy for Kashmir as was done in case of Afghanistan the United States understanding of the peace in the region has not changed. It continues believe that the resolution of Kashmir dispute holds key to lasting peace in the region and restricting China’s influence in the region. 

Washington very well understands that playing cool on Kashmir would be encouraging a greater role for Beijing in the region- the Maoist not only supporting Kashmir’s right to self-determination but also identifying itself with people of the state by calling a strike in six states against killing of 110 children and youth and placing more than five million people for past four months in curfew could be red herring to President Obama during his visit to New Delhi.