The US’s apathy to the Kashmir issue

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Dr Ghullam Nabi

Since the current uprising in Kashmir began with the killing of Burhan Wani on July 8, there have been unjustifiable and violent attacks with bullets, birdshot from pump-action shotguns and extreme cane beatings by Indian military forces upon many of the 200,000 mourners who attended his funeral. The action has also been against many young people who were in technical violation of a rigid curfew that was established by the police and armed forces, consequently provoking numerous demonstrations and violent clashes. Demonstrations have occurred across the globe by non-resident Kashmiris and other human rights activists.
The curfews and clashes have now been sustained for over five weeks, with limited or no access to basic necessities of life, including food, power and fuel, and protests have continued almost unabated, with injuries reaching close to 10,000; deaths over 85; 570, at last count, left blinded; and many more maimed from what have been euphemistically called “pellet” wounds. While Kashmir has been under siege for many decades by the largest military occupation in the world, the recent surge in what is nothing less than an effort to terrorise the population into submission and silence has been particularly brutal.
On August 30, a letter was submitted to US Secretary of State John Kerry by Non-Resident Kashmiris (NRK), which stated: “This latest situation has been met with inexplicable silence by the United States. This has given a sense of total impunity to India to exercise the use of unprecedented force on unarmed Kashmiri civilians. It has also created the impression that the United States is selective about the application of the principles of human rights and democratic values. What is the significance of an alliance between the great democracy (USA) and the so-called largest democracy in the world (India), when universal principles, democratic values and human rights are knowingly ignored?”
Coincidently, on August 30, the US and India signed a mutual defence compact, agreeing to share bases, resources and logistics in the Far East. At the same time, human rights, and what was at least a semblance of being the symbol of democratic freedoms has seemingly all but disappeared from the US agenda. Not a word, at least publicly, has been uttered by President Barack Obama or other US officials that would indicate that some pressure is being applied towards India to exercise restraint in Kashmir, and permit an airing of grievances by the angry population.
The familiar cries of azadi (freedom) and “Go India, Go Back” continue to fall on deaf ears not only in India but also upon those in the US administration who undoubtedly know the truth on the ground but instead have chosen to play politics with the facts. India’s rhetoric continues to blame Pakistan for incitement and cross-border terrorism, and the US has conveniently accepted that line of propaganda in the interest of selling India more weapons and paving the way for other US investors. In September of last year, according to Bloomberg, “ India’s cabinet approved a $3 billion deal for Boeing Co. military helicopters. The 22 Apache attack choppers and 15 Chinook cargo choppers comprised the biggest defence contract since Prime Minister Modi came to power.” India surged to become the US’s second largest weapons buyer.
Meanwhile, US State Department Spokesperson Elizabeth Trudeau said on August 16, 2016 that the US’s position on Kashmir has not changed. “The pace, the scope, the character of any discussions in Kashmir is for the two sides to determine.” Trudeau said that the US supports any and all positive steps that India and Pakistan can take to forge closer relations. “We’re aware of the clashes,” Trudeau added.
This obviously does not bode well for anyone looking for US support for human rights or the Kashmir cause, particularly in Kashmir. The bipartisan support that the Kashmir issue was given by the US administration at the United Nations seems to be disappearing. Is it because the US was wrong then, or is it because the US policy towards international legality and morality has changed?
If history is to be believed, once upon a time, the US demonstrated a significantly different approach in foreign policy toward Kashmir. The then Secretary of State John Foster Dulles (Republican) stated at the UN on February 5, 1957: “We continue to believe that unless the parties are able to agree upon some other solution, the solution that was recommended by the Security Council should prevail, which is that there should be a plebiscite.”
American representative to the United Nations, Adlai Stevenson (Democrat), stated on June 15, 1962: “The best approach is to take for a point of departure the area of common ground, which exists between the parties. I refer of course to the resolutions that were accepted by both parties and which in essence provide for demilitarisation of the territory and a plebiscite whereby the population may freely decide the future status of Jammu and Kashmir. This is in full conformity with the principle of the self-determination of people, which is enshrined in Article I of the Charter as one of the key purpose for which the United Nations exists.”
President Obama during his 2008 presidential campaign said that the US ought to help resolve the conflict over Kashmir. But as an editorial in The Nation the following year indicates, “President Obama’s comment that the US should help resolve the Kashmir dispute rattled India, and now it seems that the US Administration is dragging its feet. The issue of Kashmir remains the core issue in relations between Pakistan and India. Bruce Riedel [former CIA analyst at the Brookings Institution], who chaired the White House review that formulated Obama’’ Af-Pak strategy, is quoted by a news agency on Sunday as saying that the Obama Administration, ‘does not intend to meddle in Kashmir’.”
What is conspicuous is that since the Iraq war, Libya, and now Syria, a cynicism has grown toward any acknowledgement of issues of sovereignty and human rights. These issues have pretty much fallen off the map. US leadership has become almost completely absent on any platform for such rights, unless we are talking about Bashar al-Assad or Vladimir Putin or some other figure whose cooperation in the international matters is questionable. Corporate priorities, international banking interests and needs of Wall Street have taken control of governments everywhere, particularly in both India and the US.
It is extremely difficult to see any value in even discussing human rights as these have been relegated a backseat if they have even been permitted a seat at any discussion concerning national interests.
In addition, there has been a shift from political priorities to religious priorities, and an ultra-nationalism that trumpets “neighbourhood first” in India, much in the style and mode of Donald Trump’s “America First,” where the sectarian divide now holds stronger ground than any consideration for democratic principles. In the US, we have a similar shift: a growing nationalism combined with a distorted sense of American exceptionalism by some Conservatives, led by Donald Trump, which further erodes any consideration for democratic rights elsewhere in the world, or on the left, a New World Order imperialism, which seems to be the primary agenda of neoliberals who have co-opted the priorities of the left.
One wonders why President Obama isn’t listening to the voice of Dr Martin Luther King. Barack Obama was envisioned as the man who would bring “change,” a man whose roots and affinity in black culture gave him a significant cachet with the oppressed. While he is popularly known for his Harvard Law School days, and a brief stint as a constitutional law professor, what has been largely forgotten is that he has a much deeper background in foreign relations and international politics, and a substantial focus on economic pursuits. At Columbia he did not major in law but in political science and international relations, and later he went to work for the Business International (BI).
As a research associate in BI’s financial services division “he edited Financing Foreign Operations, a global reference service, and wrote for Business International Money Report, a weekly financial newsletter. His responsibilities included ‘interviewing business experts, researching trends in foreign exchange, following market developments’. Since taking office, Obama has fallen back on that experience and is better known for his ties to Wall Street than to his interest in the Constitution and justice and as an advocate for the less privileged.”
The advocacy of Dr Martin Luther King that injustice is immoral seems to have no effect on the mindset of experts in the corridors of power in Washington. As Dr King said, “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” We have perhaps no outstanding examples of that kind of courage that is needed by principled men in times of challenge and controversy. Dr King would not have believed that a person of high intellect like President Obama ignores this golden rule and does not speak for the oppressed people of Kashmir, despite being briefed, regularly, about the suffering and pain inflicted upon the people of Kashmir by the Indian army.
How is it possible to talk about human rights all day when at the negotiating table it is not even on the agenda? Trade and commercial deals are important but not at the expense of the high moral ground American exceptionalism has always claimed. Moral values and human rights are the very essence of even being called civilised.
The massive pain and indignities that Kashmiris suffer are only significant when they reach a pitch that the mainstream media starts noticing — as The New York Times did recently — and realises it can capitalise on a larger readership/audience because of the violence and mayhem. The usual platitudes are rushed out to put a public face on it, but there is no incentive for change. There is only the realisation that eventually, things will die down; that the curfews will end, with India regaining full control; and then everyone can return to the money pit, trading in dollars, jets and other military hardware.
It is quite unfortunate that the Obama administration and the United Nations both have chosen to adopt India’s view that this is simply a bilateral issue. This is a political mask similar to that worn by the Joker in the Batman series intended to deceive. Unfortunately, it is a “big lie”, and an extremely dangerous one. As long as India continues to blame Pakistan for problems in Kashmir, India and Pakistan remain on the verge of war with each other, and that is a threat to international peace. When two nuclear countries are facing each other down, as they have for going on 70 years, with already three wars under their belts, it is not a bilateral issue whatsoever. It has the makings of a world war. Nothing else demands international attention like such a threat, and it greatly behooves the United States, the United Nations and other allies to sit up and take heed.