United States and Kashmir

Secretary of State, Hilary Clinton’s statement in Mumbai that “the feelings of people of Kashmir” should be taken in to account in any decisions taken between India and Pakistan, comes as a breath of fresh air for the region. As the highest official in the State Department and one with broad knowledge of the geopolitical situation of the region, the Secretary of State’s comments carry a significant importance. Her supportive statement has been received enthusiastically by all segments of the Kashmiri population and all shades of public opinion. Kashmiri expatriates including those of us who live in the United States, applaud her courageous stand and thank her for reaffirming the principled position the United States has taken ever since the beginning of the conflict in 1947.

Mrs. Clinton has essentially reemphasized and endorsed the US policy views expressed by Mr. William Burns, the US Under Secretary of State for South Asia in New Delhi on June 11, 2009 during his visit to India. In his press briefing Mr. Burns said: “it remains our view that resolution of the Kashmir issue has to take into account the wishes of the Kashmiri people.” These views are consistent with the longstanding US policy on Kashmir, even at the time when India was firmly in the Soviet Union’s camp and the Soviets used their veto against the right of self-determination of the Kashmiris at the UN Security Council. Nearly all US administrations have supported the right of the people of Kashmir to determine their own political future.

Rather than diluting the centrality of the Kashmir conflict, recent events have made it even more imperative to address the issue urgently and earnestly. Acquisition, by both India and Pakistan, of large stockpiles of nuclear weapons with multi-range delivery systems has drastically changed the dynamics of regional warfare. Both neighbors with over a billion and a half population have become dangerously vulnerable to a nuclear catastrophe, planned or unplanned. There is neither cushion of distance nor a kernel of confidence between the two untrusting neighbors who are staring at each other nose-to-nose. It is the worst kind of nuclear flash point with a potential for the worst human catastrophe ever faced by humankind.

Collapse of the Soviet Union and the emergence of numerous independent and sovereign states in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, end of apartheid in South Africa; carving out of some of the tiniest independent UN member states like East Timor out of Indonesian archipelago, and last, but not the least, recognition by the United States, European Union, Israel and the world community, the need for establishment of an independent Palestinian state side by side with the state of Israel, have emboldened the Kashmiris  to push for their right of self-determination. Kashmiris see a clear-cut parallel between the occupation of the Baltic States and Palestine in 1947, and subsequently the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and how those occupations came to an end or are nearing an end. They naturally see no reason why Kashmir cannot end their own occupation.

Kashmiris see the UN Resolutions on Kashmir and the historic US endorsement of those Resolutions as a strong moral and legal tool to persuade India to end its occupation.  Mr. Burns’ and then Mrs. Clinton’s reaffirmation of the US position is both positive and consistent with the US foreign policy. This position also affirms President Obama’s commitment to seek broader engagement of Muslims around the world to combat extremism and foster an environment of rapprochement between the West, particularly the United States, and the Muslim nations. This obviously cannot be achieved as long as large populations of Muslims like Kashmiris are denied their right of self-determination. Kashmir remains an important flashpoint and a very sore spot for Muslims, particularly for the huge Muslim populations of South Asia.  President Obama offered an olive branch to the Muslim communities in his Cairo address. His words do need to be followed with actions and actions may not be convenient or popular with the dictators and occupiers of the world. In that vein we hope the US administration will take serious and substantive steps to resolve the Kashmir conflict according to the wishes of the people of Kashmir. Kashmir will be the key to US success in controlling the passions, combat extremism and get South Asia back on track of peace and prsperity.

India and Pakistan are entrenched in their positions with regard to Jammu and Kashmir. India has refused to budge from its entrenched position, defying international norms. In the cold war era it found refuge in Soviet Union, persuading it to exercise repeated vetoes in the UN Security Council against a plebiscite in Kashmir. With the fall of the Soviet Union and increasing dependence on the United States, the US has a unique opportunity to influence New Delhi’s attitude towards Kashmir issue.  India can ill-afford to antagonize the United States since US is the sole supper power and the biggest benefactor of Indian economy. Pakistan has been pushed to the limit by the United States in the war on its western front. Pakistan has gone above and beyond  what any nation has. There is not much else that can be expected from Pakistan. India on the other hand, has done very little to help the United States in any sphere where sacrifice was needed. It has been a net recipient of US favors and has remained ungrateful for those favors. Indeed, India has complicated the US war on the western border of Pakistan by instigating turmoil inside Pakistan’s Balochistan province as well as all along the eastern border from Kashmir to Sind. India is pursuing its own agenda which runs counter to that of the United States. India is receiving billions of dollars of US aid and investments in different forms, including nuclear technology. This is so because some in the US perceive India to serve as a counterweight to the increasing power of the Chinese. India for its part has its own plans which are not aimed at neutralizing the rising Chinese influence. Rather, it is using this windfall profit of the American policy change to bolster its own military-industrial establishment without doing any return in gift or gratitude. India is not paranoid about China. It is no match for China and China’s ghost is not riding Indian mind. It is Pakistan that it is the source of Indian paranoia ever since division of India took place in 1947. Investment in India is going to haunt the US policy makers sooner or later. The US must acknowledge the favors of its traditional allies. Pakistan is and India never was.

And if the US must help India’s military- industrial complex, it must demand concrete and tangible actions on the part of New Delhi in addressing the Kashmir issue and contribute positively to the peace and stability in the region. The President and the Secretary of State have a historic opportunity to force a change in the region. The US must not tread so carefully with India while it is using force in dealing with other nations who are equally or less guilty of denying basic human and political rights to people. Secretary Clinton’s advice to India and Pakistan is welcome, but more must be done more openly and more authoritatively to force change in the Indian attitude and to effect real change for the people of Kashmir and the region.

The people of Kashmir see a glimmer of hope in statements of the US government like the ones Mr. Burns and Mrs. Clinton have made, but they fear that a sustained and more visible Us involvement may or may not follow. We hope that this time around the US will not abandon this noble cause for any considerations whatsoever. There may not be another opportunity for Kashmiris to achieve their freedom through peaceful means if the current opportunity is allowed to slip away and yet another cycle of violence wrecks the momentum for a durable peace in the region.