Monday, December 15, 2008
Kashmir Holds Key to Peace in South Asia
"India is not scared of the guns here in Kashmir -- it has a thousand times more guns. What it is scared of is people coming out in the streets, people seeing the power of nonviolent struggle," says the senior leader of the moderate wing of Kashmir's main separatist alliance, Hurriyat, and a key organizer of the civil disobedience campaign that began earlier this year, filling the air with chants of azadi. The number of armed attacks in the valley, meanwhile, has dropped to its lowest since the insurgency began in 1989, according to Indian officials.
How has India responded to the the peaceful movement for freedom in Kashmir? Not recognizing the reality of change on the ground, the Indian government has attempted to demonize the struggle as LeT led terrorism. Beyond that, it has continued to use force against unarmed, peaceful civilian protesters on the streets of Kashmir. Wall Street Journal reports the current situation in Kashmir as follows: Indian troops often resorted to lethal force, killing more than 50 Kashmiri civilians. Scores of protesters and separatist politicians have been thrown behind bars or placed under house arrest. Indian officials say these detentions are necessary to preserve public peace, and that the troops have to use force to maintain law and order. Some half a million Indian soldiers and policemen remain deployed in the Indian-administered part of Jammu and Kashmir, home to 10 million people. (About 5 million people live in Pakistani-held Kashmir.) Indian laws grant troops in Kashmir almost total immunity from prosecution, including in cases of civilian deaths. Srinagar, once India's prime tourist destination, is dotted by checkpoints, its indoor stadium, cinemas and hotels surrounded by sandbags and converted into military camps. Broadcast media are censored....As Kashmir descended into chaos after these killings of innocent civilian demonstrators, India responded with increasingly severe curfews and lockdowns that continue. Often they come without prior warning or formal announcement, as in Srinagar over the past weekend.
The events in Mumbai and the media spotlight on terrorism have obscured the reality of the 60-year peaceful struggle of Kashmiris ignored by the media and dismissed by India as Pakistan-backed terror in the Srinagar Valley.
In spite of the Indian government's efforts to mislead the world about the reality of Kashmir, there are some members of the media such as Yaroslav Trofimov of Wall Street Journal and activists like Arundhati Roy have made their efforts to help keep the Kashmiri freedom flame burning. Roy wrote recently for the Guardian newspaper as follows: Not surprisingly, the voice that the government of India has tried so hard to silence in Kashmir has massed into a deafening roar. Raised in a playground of army camps, checkpoints, and bunkers, with screams from torture chambers for a soundtrack, the young generation has suddenly discovered the power of mass protest, and above all, the dignity of being able to straighten their shoulders and speak for themselves, represent themselves. For them it is nothing short of an epiphany. Not even the fear of death seems to hold them back. And once that fear has gone, of what use is the largest or second largest army in the world?
Last 4 years in South Asia saw Pakistan ready to settle the Kashmir issue with no positive results due to the lack of any sense of urgency by India. With armed Muslim groups in Kashmir dormant since the post-2004 thaw and President Musharraf of Pakistan eager to make concessions, the world has seen an era of relative peace in Kashmir which appears close to shattering again. It is clearly a missed opportunity in South Asia.
In the context of Pakistan's anti-American public opinion, the country's ongoing crises, and the growing US demands on Pakistan, the future of US-Pakistan relations and the chances of success in the "war on terror" do not look particularly bright. The only solution to this darkening mood in both nations is a serious and sincere effort by each to improve their bilateral relationship based on a recognition of mutual interests and genuine needs. The incoming Obama administration has an opportunity to change the US tone with Pakistan in January 2009 to make the friendship genuine and useful to both partners in the war on terror. Barack Obama's oft-repeated position that Kashmir and India-Pakistan relations can not be isolated from the "war on terror" in Afghanistan, Pakistan and elsewhere in the world offers a good starting point for discussion.
As long as the Kashmir issue remains unresolved, Pakistan, India and the US can not win the "war on terror" and bring peace and stability to the South Asian region, including Afghanistan. Recent Mumbai attacks and the ostensible Kashmir link via LeT have confirmed that yet again. India's opposition to Mr. Obama's desire to mediate will test the Obama administration's resolve in seriously pursuing resolution of Kashmir.
Here is a comprehensive video on the origins of Kashmir dispute and the positions of various parties as presented by Pakistani Peace Activist Dr. Pervez Hoodbhoy:
Obama's South Asia Policy
Military Occupation of Kashmir