Obama’s Kashmir lesson
United States President Barrack Obama’s statement that no solution on Kashmir could be thrust from outside has come on expected lines, keeping in view the changing dynamics of politics at Global level, particularly after 9/11 attacks. Obama was not cautious in his statement when asked about Kashmir solution, but he made it crystal clear that nations (India and Pakistan) must see their responsibilities, as “It is not the place of any nation, including the United States, to try to impose solutions from the outside.”
However, he has not completely ignored the issue of Jammu and Kashmir while expressing satisfaction over the continued “bonhomie” of India and Pakistan in the shape of increased trade and people to people contact. His statement also has a symbolic value as far as registering Kashmir as a problem is concerned.
Obama’s assertion about not intervening in resolving the protracted conflict has given a setback to the separatists, who apart from “sacrifices” of people in past 21 years had been banking upon the support from the International community particularly the United States. Since Kashmir continues to be alive in the United Nations in the shape of its resolutions, the Washington connection becomes more visible. With Pakistan being its ally in cold war period and subsequent power game in the region, it was visibly stronger making people to live in an illusion that it was Washington, which would make India to take a decision on Kashmir. In a sense Pakistan was a broker in highlighting Kashmir’s genuine cause at the international level. It was more because of human rights situation in Kashmir that attracted attention at the international level rather than Pakistan’s lobbying. Case of Kashmiri American Council executive director Ghulam Nabi Fai is enough to draw conclusions how irritated Washington has been with Pakistan and its policy. He (Fai) was booked and thrown into jail just because what they say he was on pay roll of Pakistani agency thus pushing into the background the political reality of Kashmir issue.
The situation had, however, changed in the past one decade, since Pakistan not only lost its stability to war in Afghanistan but also the India’s increasing proximity to Washington played a significant role in neutralizing its effect in making them (US) believe that their intervention in resolving Kashmir issue was inevitable. Until September 11 attacks on US, Pakistan’s position on diplomatic level was still forceful. It could maneuver support on Kashmir by projecting it as a “genuine political issue”. But in the aftermath of those attacks, Pakistan’s deep involvement in the so-called “war on terror” and its visible failure to contain Taliban for US, changed the dynamics of politics in the region. While Pakistan was seen as a breeding ground for “terrorism”, this argument was linked with the Kashmir problem as well, thus projecting it as part of “International Islamic terror network”. However, the fact remains that Kashmir has never been part of such a network and presence of any foreign militant notably from Pakistan has been merely a coincidence. There has not been any imprint of Al Qaeda or Taliban in Kashmir, which could make it part of such a network.
Pakistan’s weakness on home turf further gave a jolt to the process of resolving Kashmir issue. While it raised the tempo of Kashmir to the highest level in the first decade after 1990, the same plummeted to the lowest in the previous decade, thus distancing the world powers also from the issue. Pakistan’s threat to bargain over Kashmir resolution was also grounded after Al Qaeda founder Osama Bin Laden was caught and killed by the Americans last year. That was perhaps the only bargaining chip Islamabad could use to force the Washington to influence New Delhi for a resolution. During his last year’s visit to India, President Obama had given enough indicators about how important India was in the new scheme of things. Indo-US civilian nuclear deal and many more pacts have since narrowed the gulf between two countries, which have always remained at a distance especially during the cold war. Obama seeking 50,000 jobs for Americans in India was a subtle reminder about India’s growing influence, which in any case is at the cost of long time friendship between Washington and Islamabad. Today the intelligence agencies of both countries (CIA and ISI) are virtually at war, throwing their operatives out of the boundaries. With State department and Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry trying to maintain a semblance of relations, these agencies are out to “frustrate” the moves of peace. Recent issue of NATO supplies was also a grim reminder about the battered relations both the countries have. And Obama’s outright rejection of any intervention over Kashmir is reflection of the strand relations both are tied in.
Not only because of changing political goal posts in the region, but also the past record of Washington has been to play safe in Kashmir. Except from raising concern over human rights violations, it has not made any direct attempt to bid a solution on Kashmir. We need to clear our “impressions” that Kashmir was never on priority of US.
Distinguished American diplomat Howard B Schaffer in his book “Limits of Influence-Americas Role in Kashmir” under scores the need for understanding the limits Washington has in indulging in brokering a solution between India and Pakistan. “If any lesson is to be drawn from the events of past six decades is that Kashmir issue is complex and difficult and needs to be addressed with due respects for its tortured history” he says. But at the same time he argues that Obama administration can play a role to bring a conclusion to this dispute. That, however, is a caveat with the changing paradigm of relations between US, India and Pakistan in recent years. Kashmir’s struggle is genuine and leaders should refrain from making their illusions about such interventions firm.
Separatists’ angry reaction over his statement is not out-of-place keeping in the view their engagements at different levels with the US government. It is true that even symbolic intervention of players like US makes the difference but Kashmir does not fit in their priority, as it is a stake less region for them. Lesson, however, is that they (leaders) should rejuvenate themselves to build an opinion in Indian public in favour of their “genuine cause”.
It is true that any solution to Kashmir problem has to come out of an agreement between New Delhi and Islamabad albeit with the representation of views of people of Jammu and Kashmir, but to garner support at public level in both India and Pakistan for a formidable solution is the duty of these leaders who see more towards the world powers than to the real constituencies in the South Asia.
Syed Shujaat Bukhari is chief editor of the Rising Kashmir. This article first appeared in the Rising Kashmir of 17 July 2012. The views expressed are personal.