During his presidential campaign, President Obama publicly stated that peace in South Asia and Afghanistan would need to incorporate some kind of resolution on the Kashmir dispute between India and Pakistan.
The then presidential candidate rightly stated, "We should probably try to facilitate a better understanding between Pakistan and India and try to resolve the Kashmir crisis." Obama's stance restored hope in Kashmir as a whole, including the Kashmiri civil society and pro-democratic forces in the Kashmir valley.
Over the summer, Kashmir witnessed the largest civil protests in years, with tens of thousands taking to the streets in peaceful, unarmed protests demanding freedom, peace and human rights. Even though more than 40 unarmed protesters were killed and hundreds were beaten and arrested by state security forces, Kashmiris marched on for weeks. Kashmiri civil society showed the world its commitment to non-violent demonstrations, desire for peace and respect for human rights.
Yet last week, the Obama administration announced the mandate of Richard Holbrooke, the U.S. envoy to Pakistan and India, would not include the disputed territory of Kashmir. India has celebrated the announcement as a political victory. Kashmiris again find themselves shaking their heads at a lost opportunity for the truth be exposed concerning the atrocities and political oppression they endure.
India's celebration comes as no surprise. Greater attention to the Kashmir conflict would threaten India's reputation as the largest democracy in the world. Kashmir remains a huge stain in India's already questionable human rights record. The U.S. envoy's attention to Kashmir would have perhaps shed more light on the scale of atrocities and political oppression endured by Kashmiris for over a decade.
U.S. and the Muslim world
Like the conflicts in Afghanistan and Palestine, the Kashmir conflict is one that is talked about in hundreds of thousands of mosques -- not jut in the region, but throughout the world. Extremists in the Muslim world often use Palestine and Afghanistan as examples for creating anti-U.S. sentiments. Unlike Palestine and Afghanistan, however, the U.S. is still in a position where it can either appear as a helper or an agitator. Kashmiris are looking to the new administration to pressure both India and Pakistan to acknowledge the grievances of the people living in the Kashmir valley.
The U.S envoy's omission of Kashmir in his mandate threatens to leave Kashmiri civil society vulnerable, and U.S. supporters in Kashmir beleaguered. Atrocities will continue and the current generation of youth will grow increasingly helpless within the present system of zero accountability for past killings and rapes and zero justice. Such developments threaten U.S. interests for achieving peace, strengthening democratic institutions and defeating extremism in the region.
Peace will be hollow if Kashmiri civil society continues to be marginalized. Extremists will capitalize on this marginalization. Therefore, it is imperative that the Obama administration create avenues of communication to the thriving Kashmiri civil society, which supports human rights and transparency.
The U.S. relationship with India and Pakistan is in itself peculiar and warrants some serious reevaluation. On the one hand, the majority of systematic abuses in Kashmir are continually perpetrated by India, which receives praise by the U.S. for being the world's largest democracy and remains a key economic partner in Asia. Making matters more complex, America's ally in the war terror, Pakistan, remains a provider of weapons and money to some militants operating in Kashmir. All the while the situation on the ground deteriorates and extremists win ground against confused U.S sympathizers in the region.
Hopes and desires of the Kashmiri people
For too long, Kashmir has been debated from the lenses of India, Pakistan and extremists. Yet Kashmir is not limited to these players. Within Kashmir are the people -- the people most affected from the conflict, a people who suffered and continue to suffer atrocities. They are a people who desire peace, human rights and democracy. Organic institutions in Kashmir founded on human rights, democracy, and justice do exist, (such as the Kashmir People's Tribunal),yet, they continue to be overshadowed and even threatened by the State. Thus, they need international support in order to continue to be able to cultivate a culture of civil protest, peace, human rights, and justice and accountability.
It was my hope that the U.S. envoy to the region would at least have a mandate to reach out to these institutions. I still hope that he will, perhaps behind the scenes. I hope -- and Kashmiris hope -- that the Obama administration pushes for greater communication with local civil society on the ground in Kashmir, for they wait and pray for the next opportunity for greater justice and accountability to materialize. And it must also be stated that the extremists and the Taliban hope for the opposite.
Regional peace and U.S. interests
Kashmir is at critical stage that will affect both regional peace and security and U.S. interests in the region. As opportunities for greater justice and accountability for Kashmiris are continually marginalized, the Kashmiri youth of today, who have seen nothing but war and failed judicial processes and failed political processes, will be ever vulnerable to sympathizing with extremists and Taliban forces in the region, thus threatening U.S. interests in the region. The road to defeating the Taliban and extremism in the region is through strengthening and supporting institutions of peace, democracy, and human rights.
Since India continues to oppress civil society in Kashmir, as seen last summer with the killings of unarmed protesters, it is left to the international community to bring the people's grievances forward. The road to peace in Pakistan, Afghanistan and India leads through Kashmir and through recognition and inclusion of Kashmiri civil society.
Will we (America) continue to shake India's and Pakistan's hands as 1,000 mass graves are left uninvestigated by India and as Pakistan continues to support certain militant groups in Kashmir? I hope not. I pray that this country, America -- a country that prides itself on justice, accountability, human rights and change -- will for the first time in eight years mean what it says.
In the meantime, Kashmir waits, still bleeding.
(A Fact Sheets may be found at worldfocus.org).