Obama Silent on Kashmir Despite Devastating Conflict -- And Solution Has Been Outlined For Years
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Tensions over Kashmir go back to 1947, when India and Pakistan first came into being. At the time, largely Muslim Kashmir was ruled by a Hindu prince, who decided to go with India even though, under the British formula for dividing the two countries, Kashmir should have become part of Pakistan. Pakistan's response of infiltrating soldiers into Kashmir touched off a war that, to one degree or other, has gone on for the last 63 years.
Today Kashmir is divided between the Northern Areas and Azad Kashmir held by Pakistan, and the Indian-controlled Kashmir and largely Hindu Jammu. A Line of Control divides the two areas.
In 1989 Kashmiris staged a revolt, and Pakistan began infiltrating paramilitaries across the Line to attack Indian forces. That war dragged on until 2007, when Pakistan and India began secret back-channel negotiations. The talks, however, were scuttled when military dictator-turned-president Pervez Musharraf lost power in Pakistan, and militant jihadis attacked Mumbai in 2009, killing 165 people. India charged that Pakistan’s intelligence agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence, was behind the attack.
Seeking a Solution
As difficult as the situation in Kashmir seems, according to Steve Coll, it is solvable, and a failure to deal with it is dangerous. “The conflict has again and again spilled outside of Kashmir.” Coll is a former reporter and editor at The Washington Post, author of numerous books on the Middle East and Central Asia, and president of the New American Foundation. U.S. policy has been to keep Kashmir and Afghanistan as separate problems, but, Coll argues, “that policy is no longer consistent with the facts.” Muzamil Jaleel of the daily Indian Express agrees that the two countries “are linked so much now that India and Pakistan are fueling ethnic tension in Afghanistan.”
The current unrest in Kashmir, which has claimed more than 100 lives, is very different than the previous war. It is largely a non-violent movement composed almost exclusively of local Kashmiris rather than fighters from Pakistan. It also has a strong contingent of young people, whose tech-savvy skills have put Kashmir’s resistance on the Internet. A decade ago Indian troops could wall off Kashmir. Today, the whole world is watching.
Coll contends the framework for a settlement is fairly straightforward. First, India would have to rein it its 500,000 troops and paramilitaries. At the same time, the draconian Special Powers Act -- originally designed to crush opposition to British rule in Ireland and currently used by the Israelis in the Occupied Territories -- would have to be shelved. The laws give virtual immunity to widespread human rights violations by the Indian authorities and allow imprisonment without charges. Second, the Line of Control would become an international border, but a porous one that allows free passage for Kashmiris. Third, the residents of Kashmir and Jammu would be given a certain amount of local autonomy.
In the long run, the people of Kashmir ought to be able to hold a referendum about their future. The UN originally proposed such an undertaking, but first Pakistan and then India scotched it, fearful that residents might vote to join one or the other country. In fact, most residents would likely vote for independence.
An autonomous or even independent Kashmir is not only in the interests of the 10 million or so people that inhabit one of the most beautiful -- and tragic -- areas of the world, it would help defuse terrorism in Pakistan and India. For the United States to forgo this option for what can only be a temporary alliance against an emerging China is profoundly short-sighted.