Friday, 30 May 2008

U Turn on Kashmir

U Turn on Kashmir
Dr Shabir Choudhry

Different leaders, groups and governments have made changes to their declared policy on Kashmir; and some called these changes ‘U Turns’. Unfortunate history of Kashmir is full of these ‘U Turns’; even if one looks at contemporary Kashmiri history, it is difficult to enlist all the u turns made by different individuals, groups and governments.

After American Ambassador, Mr Robert D Blackwill’s, recent visit to Srinagar, Mufti Sayeed, the Chief Minister of Indian held Kashmir, boasted that there has been a major shift in the American policy on Kashmir. He called this ‘shift’ an American ‘U Turn’ on Kashmir.

Mufti Sayeed, after taking over as a Chief Minister, made some positive gestures in order to win hearts of the people. His gestures had mixed response, some people, including officials of some foreign countries, appreciated him for what he did and encouraged him to take more similar steps.

Of course there were many who criticised him for being a ‘B team’ of New Delhi, who came to power with the Indian agenda- sell the same wine with different label on it. According to this view, people of Kashmir understand real agenda of the New Delhi Government and would not be fooled by this window dressing.

That aside for a moment, as far as the much- talked American ‘U turn’ is concerned, I am loath to agree with this. Although I have no right to speak on behalf of the American policy makers, but as a writer and analyst, I see Americans reacting to the ground realities in Kashmir. We may disagree with their policy in Kashmir, but this is what they have done through the history of the conflict.

In 1947 when rulers of Kashmir and Hyderabad expressed their desire to become sovereign states, there was even a talk of America recognising independence of these states, but was advised by the British, former Imperialist power in India, to wait until ‘course of events take natural course’.

The course of events was manoeuvred, with some help from the British officials, to suit India, and Kashmir was later taken to the United Nations Security Council where Americans played a major role in deliberations. Like any other country they had their national and strategic interest in their mind, but it was the ground reality in Kashmir to which America and other countries reacted.

When there was lull and stalemate in Kashmir, America and other countries reacted to the ground reality by giving less or no attention to it. But whenever there was such activity that changed or threatened to change the existing situation in Kashmir, it drew attention of America and other countries.

History of recent past clearly indicate that whenever there is a serious event in Kashmir, other countries have reacted to it; and unfortunately to draw world attention to the Kashmir dispute and to make a point, some highly objectionable events have taken place for which all three parties to the dispute got blamed.

No doubt after the 11th September, America’s priorities changed and with that changed the strategic thinking which blurred the distinction between a freedom fighter and a terrorist. Many believe that this change had adverse affect on the Kashmiri struggle and especially militancy in Kashmir.

India benefited from this changed environment, and tried to win support of the only superpower which had declared aim of fighting ‘terrorism’ in every shape and form. India tried to make a point that what America experienced on 11th September, India has been experiencing this for decades, and this, no doubt, won them some international support.

While this war on terrorism was in full swing, India announced elections in Kashmir. Apart from the Americans other countries welcomed that and encouraged all Kashmiris to participate in it. APHC, which does not have a representative character, although it is the biggest political platform in Kashmir, was repeatedly requested to participate in the elections.

APHC leaders and some other Kashmiri leaders demanded a referendum as elections could not substitute a referendum that was promised to them. In any case they were sceptical that like on previous occasions Indian statecraft would manipulate the outcome of the elections. America and Britain assured them that this time elections would be fair and free, but despite this APHC and some other Kashmiri leaders did not participate in the elections.

It was clear that, once again, America and other countries would surely react to the prevailing situation in Kashmir. To them an election was a major political activity- it was beginning of a process that could possibly create conducive environment in which some kind of dialogue could start.

As we know that the APHC boycotted the elections because of fear of ‘rigging’ and also they thought election could not provide any solution, especially if they are held under the Indian Constitution. Opponents of the APHC considered this as a ‘run away approach’ and failure to face the people, in their view, not all leaders had mass following.

Western officials believed that these leaders had following, but stressed that,
‘Only way to ascertain the strength of this following is to take part in these elections’. Anyhow this debate will continue, people who support the APHC would claim that it was the correct decision to boycott and there would be many who would see it with scepticism.

As far as the visit of an American Ambassador is concerned it was clear that after the elections, America and other Western countries would like to keep close contacts with newly elected administration. This point was made in my interaction with a Western diplomat, and I later produced a part of the conversation in my article ’Kashmir after the elections’, in the following words:
I asked him if his government, and other Western governments would accept the outcome of these elections. He said I am not in a position to speak for other governments but we will accept the new government in Kashmir as a ‘legitimate government’ and interact with it…. we will also interact with separatist leaders, but in my opinion ‘they have, to some extent, lost their standing.’

The present visit of the American Ambassador has only confirmed what many predicted. It is not easy for the Western officials to play down or completely ignore outcome of what they believe is a political and democratic process. No doubt this visit was important one with overt and covert implications, and by not meeting the APHC and other Kashmiri separatist leaders a message was sent out that in view of the American Administration, Mufti Sayeed is an ‘elected representative’, and that they would happily do ‘business’ with him. It further signals that the APHC leadership is not an elected one, as they decided to keep away from the electoral process, hence might not be in the same league.

Dr Nazir Gilani, a known writer and human rights activist, while writing on the issue of the visit wrote:
Americans have certified the Kashmir elections. They have also signalled that Hurriet can no more use the bluff of an American blessing. The cause of the erstwhile American blessing was not any merit of Hurriet but it was the result of a hard work of the Kashmiri activists spread in America, United Kingdom, Canada and various other capitals of the Europe. … US through its ambassador has not only certified the elections, it has praised the valour of the people and tied future interest in the development to peace in the state.

But it does not necessarily mean that there is a ’U turn’ in the American policy on Kashmir. I am sure there is more than one way of keeping in touch with the APHC and other Kashmiri leaders, and officials other than the Ambassador could well be in constant touch with Kashmiri leaders in various parts of the world.

In the view of the American Administration the State of Jammu and Kashmir was disputed before the elections and it was disputed at the time of Ambassador’s visit; and there is no evidence to suggest that America does not regard it disputed any longer. The Kashmir dispute is very complicated one, and has a long history; and no single event could resolve or diminish its importance. Therefore we must not read too much into one single event, and can still rely on the American support for a peaceful resolution of the Kashmir dispute.

Writer is a Kashmiri leader based in London and author of many books and booklets on Kashmir.

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