Column: Biden presidency can impact “most dangerous place in the world” — Columbus Dispatch
With a new president secured for 2021, all eyes are on the incoming Biden-Harris administration and its hand on domestic and international politics. For Kashmir, the outcome could literally be a matter of life or death. After seven decades of occupation and brutal military conflict, the region — one of the most dangerous in the world — remains a significant source of geopolitical tension, with nuclear-armed neighbors India and Pakistan disputing each other’s control. Too often, the citizens of Kashmir are forgotten. A Biden presidency could very well change that.
After the end of British rule and the partition of the Indian subcontinent into India and Pakistan, Kashmir was free to accede to either nation. Under coercion, the local Kashmiri ruler chose to join India on the condition that Kashmir retains its own constitution, a separate flag, and freedom to make laws — rights that were formalized in India’s constitution. Although both sides agreed the accession to India would be ratified by a referendum, the vote never materialized.
The Kashmiri people have been denied their right to self-determination ever since. While some Kashmiris prefer full ascension to either country, the majority of Kashmiri citizens still seek the right to self-determination as an independent state.
In recent years, human-rights conditions have only worsened. India has suppressed peaceful movements for self-determination and the brutal conditions of its military occupation have led to several armed uprisings. Each of these has been mercilessly crushed, claiming tens of thousands of lives. The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights released a report in July 2019 highlighting the excessive force employed in response to protests, including pellet guns to administer crowd control. The report also cited a lack of justice for past abuses, including killings, forced displacement, enforced or involuntary disappearances and alleged sexual violence, torture, and deaths of prisoners in custody.
On Aug. 5, 2019, Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist government abolished Kashmir’s constitutional autonomy and placed the region under unprecedented lockdown. Overnight, millions of people were blockaded in their homes and had their internet connections and phone lines cut. Many Kashmiris feared that this was a step toward India completely annexing Kashmir.
India has also gradually enacted residency laws to change the state’s Muslim majority status. A new domicile rule passed in May 2020 resulted in nearly 400,000 people being granted a domicile certificate in just over one month. According to a report published in July 2020, Indian military action in the first six months of this year resulted in 229 killings, including three children and two women. Genocide Watch identified India’s actions as a precursor to a likely genocide of the Kashmiri people.
Former U.S. Presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton have both dubbed the region “the most dangerous place in the world.” With 100,000 civilian deaths, 10,000 missing, and civic, political and economic life critically suppressed, the conflict in Kashmir shows no signs of letting up, and innocent civilians must continue to endure this long and bloody crisis.
Under the Trump administration, the U.S. sought to strengthen ties with the Modi government and overlooked the catastrophic impact his policies have had on the human-rights conditions of millions of people in Kashmir. With China playing its cards strategically, India is losing friends in the region faster than ever before — Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, as well as the nuclear power, Pakistan. Under these conditions, the U.S. will have to make wise choices.
I am hopeful. Both President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris have a humane approach to foreign policy and have spoken out on the conflict. Biden also included Kashmir in his policy agenda geared toward Muslim-American communities as part of his election campaign. Importantly, both recognize that Kashmir is an issue that must be resolved through dialogue among all parties.
As a lifelong activist for the Kashmiri cause, I believe it is my calling to spread awareness of what is happening on the ground as far as possible. From beatings to killings, armed military presence and discrimination, the people of Kashmir are facing erasure from history. To achieve peace in the region and end decades of human-rights abuses, the U.S. government must play an active role and no longer turn a blind eye.
Dr. Ghulam is president of the World Kashmir Awareness Forum. He resides in Akron.