The path to peace in Kashmir

By: Dr Ghulam Nabi Fai

On behalf of the ‘World Kashmir Awareness’ and its members, sincere congratulations to Mr President-elect on your election as the 45th President of the United States of America. As you settle down to your new responsibilities, I would like you to know that the best wishes of Americans of Kashmiri origin are with you. We are a small community, but it is almost entirely made up of professional people.

In their struggle against the tyranny of foreign occupation and to regain their rights, the people of Kashmir look for support from world leaders of conscience and concern who stand for freedom, democratic rights and human dignity.

They realise that the natural sympathy for their cause and their suffering has been inhibited by the perception of the Kashmir problem as either a separatist issue or a territorial problem between India and Pakistan. The truth is that it is neither. The issue involved is first and foremost the issue of the self-determination of people with a defined history and national character of their own, inhabiting a territory which belongs to neither India nor Pakistan. Their right to determine their future has been explicitly recognised by the United Nations as early as 1948.

Secretary of State John Foster Dulles (Republican) stated on 5 February 1957 that: “We continue to believe that unless the parties are able to agree upon some other solution, the solution which was recommended by the Security Council should prevail, which is that there should be a plebiscite (in Kashmir).”

Two characteristics that distinguish Kashmir dispute from all other international conflicts are that: firstly, here two main parties — India and Pakistan – agreed what should be the solution of the dispute and that would be a plebiscite under international auspices. Both parties came to the United Nations, and accepted the resolutions of the Security Council and then when the United Nations sent its representatives to discuss the modalities of the plebiscite, India refused to cooperate. Secondly, it is the only region in the world which shares its border not only with two nuclear-armed rivals — India and Pakistan – but also with a third nuclear-armed nation, China.

Currently U.S. policy has led the Indian Government to believe that all it needs is some political maneuvering to dissipate foreign concern over the appalling situation in Kashmir. The Obama Administration at first showed some concern at least over the savagery of the Indian occupation of Kashmir. However, after the visit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, there seems to have been a tilt towards India. It is plausible that the tilt has been caused by the prospect of profitable American investments in that large country. As Americans, we appreciate the importance of expanding economic relations between the US and India. But who knows it better than you as a global business leader that American investments in India will remain exposed to grave danger as long as the South Asian Subcontinent remains a scene of continuing strife, with the specter of war always in the horizon and a nuclear exchange not an impossibility. Even from a purely economic perspective, if not from concern over peace, genuine democracy and observance of human rights, the restoration of normalcy in South Asia deserves to be a policy goal for the world’s only superpower. The Kashmir dispute being the key cause of conflict, its marginalisation can hardly serve long-term American interests.

The Kashmiri American community is conscience of the strength and extent of the Indian commercial market. We are also aware of the superstitious belief among some American liberal circles that India can do no wrong. We believe, however, that your unequivocal statement on 15 October 2016 that, “If we could get India and Pakistan getting along, I would be honoured to do that. That would be a tremendous achievement … I think if they wanted me to, I would love to be the mediator or arbitrator,” was both humane and pragmatic, and which responds to long-term interests of the US and India alike. Such an initiative should gather bipartisan support that it so eminently deserves.

We do not visualize a settlement that would be unrealistic and resuscitate the State of Jammu and Kashmir as it existed in October 1947. But we do ask for a settlement that would be in accordance with the wishes of 20 million people of the State, impartially ascertained. The modalities for putting such a settlement in place can be worked out through negotiations between the parties concerned — Governments of India and Pakistan and the legitimate leadership of the people of Jammu and Kashmir.

Denying Kashmir that right is a very dangerous game, particularly when the will for self-determination has only grown stronger with the passage of time. So, we believe that your desire to mediate and bring the parties together is extremely valuable right now. Our 44th President, Barack Obama while a candidate in 2008, also promised to help resolve this issue, but did nothing substantial or noteworthy to follow through after he became President. He went for the “deal” — the trade opportunities — but didn’t leverage it. Rather than setting aside your commitments in favour of making importanttrade deals, it is clear that “linkage” in helping resolve conflicts is something you are quite familiar with, which can be established and used to your advantage. It is not just the peace and security of South Asia that is at stake but the peace, security and stability of the region of South Asia, including Afghanistan.

This is a vital commitment. Peace and security are clearly dependent upon resolving this issue in a region where the nuclear option is always on the table. President Ronald Reagan once said, “We do not deny any nation’s legitimate interest in security. But protecting the security of one nation by robbing another of its national independence and national traditions is not legitimate. In the long run, it is not even secure.”

It’s very clear that Kashmir needs a strong and determined will and the genius of imagination that has the negotiating skills and knows how to bring people together.

Without reservation, it can be said that the person who becomes instrumental in resolving the issue of Kashmir — the bone of contention between the two very potentially dangerous countries — deserves not only the Nobel Peace Prize but also a unique place in history. The resolution of the dispute will bring unparalleledhonour to the one who helps to achieve it. That honour could be yours, Mr President-elect. Your leadership in helping to settle the Kashmir dispute should not be seen to favour India or Pakistan but to advance the cause of freedom, democracy and human rights.

The writer is the Secretary General of World Kashmir Awareness and can be

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