Kashmir Beyond Platitudes: The Responsibility to Protect
Oh let the sun beat down upon my face, stars to fill my dream / I am a traveler of both time and space, to be where I have been / To sit with elders of the gentle race, this world has seldom seen / They talk of days for which they sit and wait and all will be revealed…. –lyrics by Jimmy Page from the song Kashmir, performed by Led Zeppelin
Why, after 67 years of dispute, is the question of Kashmir, land of the “gentle race,” still lurking in the shadows of international relations, still unresolved, despite its seemingly relative unimportance to global interests in matters of resources and international trade?
Reasons for the conflict over Kashmir are argued among contenders on a number of points, more often than not to serve globalist interests rather than the fundamental needs or desires of the Kashmiris themselves. Why, after 67 years, the problem continues to fester is the challenge those who talk of peace, stability, and democratic rights must sooner or later confront.
The most pertinent evidence of that conflict is that India has in recent years had as many as 700,000 military and paramilitary forces stationed on a piece of land no larger than the state of Tennessee. By comparison, during the height of the Iraq war, in October 2007, U.S. Troop strength was only a little over 166,000. Iraq compares in size to the state of California. Obviously, the number of troops stationed in Kashmir is highly significant. There is no war taking place there. There is no imminent external threat of a foreign invader, with troops amassed at its border. Why so many troops?
India frequently justifies its military presence, first, by asserting that Kashmir is an ‘integral part’ of India, and, second, that Pakistan, just across the border, is a threat. Both are nuclear-armed, and cross-border skirmishes occur periodically among a handful of troops stationed along the UN-established Cease-fire Line. However, to whatever extent such a threat exists, such an enormous volume of troops is well beyond whatever need there might be to resist such incursions. The best way to make sure that there is no such infiltration is to let the United Nations be allowed to monitor the Cease-fire Line.
“The barrier itself consists of double-row of fencing and concertina wire eight to twelve feet (2.4–3.7 m) in height, and is electrified and connected to a network of motion sensors, thermal imaging devices, lighting systems and alarms. They act as “fast alert signals” to the Indian troops who can be alerted and ambush the infiltrators trying to sneak in. The small stretch of land between the rows of fencing is mined with thousands of landmines.” Wikipedia
The truth is that the people of Kashmir themselves have always been hostile to the presence of India’s troops on their soil and have resisted to such oppression, and over hundred thousand Kashmiris have died within the past 22 years alone. Long standing agreements in place have in fact afforded the Kashmiri people the right to determine their own destiny.
What we have, then, is a case of a large country bullying a small nation into submission in violation of not only their right to sovereignty but international agreements and two dozen UN resolutions giving them the right to determine their own political fate. The purpose of so many troops stationed in this small country is for no other purpose but blatant oppression. Their presences make Kashmir the largest army concentration anywhere in the world.
You would think that the international community would be up in arms over such abuse, particularly in view of the fact that the Kashmiris have shown an iron determination to resist tens of thousands of killings, and thousands of rapes, disappearances and torture inflicted upon the population at the hands of these foreign occupiers.
In a more idealistic mood and swept up in the rhetoric of election campaigning, on October 30, 2008, on the eve of his election, President Barack Obama did, in one his rare moments of candor on the issue, address the problems of Kashmir. “We should probably try to facilitate a better understanding between Pakistan and India, “he announced,” and try to resolve the Kashmir crisis.” It wasn’t long after Obama’s newly anointed status, however, that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was in New Delhi shuffling cards, engaging in toasts, and making deals on Boeing aircraft. Little more, if anything, was ever said about Kashmir. Trade between India and the U.S. has since become a $100 billion dollar business, with growth estimated in the near term as high as $500 billion.
Given such platitudes, while American foreign policy is supposed to be grounded on moral values, democratic ideals and universal principles, it would appear that wherever the crowd of commercial interests get VIP status, such ideals and principles are easily set aside, relegated to the back of the room, where it’s standing room only. Money talks; ideals walk. Situation ethics is the name of the play.
It is quite conspicuous that the world powers feel awkward and unequipped to intervene in any international conflict because the country concerned is too powerful and does not listen to morals and ethics when everyone has his wallet on the table. In addition, India’s refusal to accept international assistance for the recent flood seems to shut the door on any kind of international dialogue regarding Kashmir. The Kashmiris are shut in, and the outside world out.
Doesn’t the world community recognize such double standards? How is international credibility and trust engendered by such behavior? For whom does this bell toll but for last vestiges of all that we hold dear, while the corrupt and cynical become more emboldened, and does it not sow the seeds of hatred and deeper more lasting conflict among those who suffer because of it?
“Bigger nations should not be able to bully smaller ones… people should be able to choose their own future,” President Barack Obama said, when he spoke to the United Nations General Assembly on September 24, 2014. “Too often, ” he added, “we have failed to enforce international norms when it’s inconvenient to do so.”
It would have been nice if he had mentioned Kashmir in the same breath. However, speeches by a U.S. President on foreign policy usually engage issues that are relative to immediate concerns and objectives, and he seemed much more interested in pointing fingers at Russia for supporting the separatist fight in Ukraine and the need to impose sanctions. “America and our allies will support the people of Ukraine as they develop their democracy and economy.” he said. “We will reinforce our NATO allies, and uphold our commitment to collective defense. We will impose a cost on Russia for aggression, and counter falsehoods with the truth.”
So while the U.S. imposes sanctions on Russia for interfering in stability and peace in a country more than 5,000 miles away which is of no strategic pertinence to American safety or freedoms, it engages in trade with India and says nothing about India’s failure to enforce “international norms” where it is apparently inconvenient to do so. India’s transgressions in Kashmir are clearly far more relevant to the issue of international norms, given their history, than anything now occurring in Eastern Europe.
If, in Indian Prime Minister Modi’s address to the same United Nations forum in September 2014, he proposed that “We should put aside our differences and mount a concerted international effort to combat terrorism and extremism, ” then perhaps he ought to look rather carefully into the mirror of his own country’s actions in Kashmir. He went so far as to say, “As a symbol of this effort, I urge you to adopt the Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism….We should work together to ensure that all countries observe international rules and norms.”
A grand statement, to be sure, but it has little credibility in the face of persistent policies by India against the defenseless people of Kashmir. Nevertheless, we accept Prime Minister Modi’s challenge, “Our efforts must begin here – in the United Nations.” The point of departure for resolving Kashmir dispute has to be the same – to go back, yes, back to the United Nations which has prescribed the resolution of the Kashmir problem through a democratic method of a free and fair plebiscite.
Perhaps the Prime Minister might indeed demonstrate his sincerity by also withdrawing troops from Kashmir. The presence of such a large number inevitably provokes unnecessary incidents of violence which further enflames the populace, serves as an excuse for lockdowns and curfews that last days at a time, and makes absolutely no sense at all, particularly now that the country has been deeply burdened with unimaginable social and economic losses as a result of the worst flood that Kashmir has ever experienced in its recorded history. The soldiers stood by, equipped with substantial resources, making selective rescue operations, and left the Kashmiris — many just teenagers in small makeshift rafts — to fend for themselves.
And how do the world powers, the U.S. among them, justify the inclusion of India as a permanent member of the UN Security Council when all the world sees that it is in violation of the UN’s own charter? This makes the mockery of the international obligations.
On the other side of this coin, we have Pakistan, which also controls one third of Kashmir. The two countries have traded barbs and bullets over possession of this land for over six decades.
Mr. Nawaz Sharif, the Prime Ministry of Pakistan articulated his country’s policy on September 26, 2014 during his speech at the United Nations, “The core issue of Jammu and Kashmir has to be resolved. This is the responsibility of the international community. We cannot draw a veil on the issue of Kashmir, until it is addressed in accordance with the wishes of the people of Jammu and Kashmir.”
But his advisor, Mr. Sartaj Aziz was extremely cautious and reluctant even to accept this principle policy of Pakistan. He was unenthusiastic and apathetic when he said on September 28, 2014, that the timing of a meeting between Hurriyat leaders and Pakistani High Commissioner Abdul Basit was “probably not right.” The problem apparently was that talks on a broader level between India and Pakistan had not been initiated, and that setting such an agenda with the Kashmiri resistance movement was premature. He was equally apologetic and repentant by saying “I think if the request (from India) had come earlier…..then probably it could have been reconsidered.” Obviously, if Pakistan wants to be taken serious by the world powers, then she has to have a strategic vision and unified approach for the Kashmir dispute. Its policy must be based on solid foundation and not on a shaky one.
Isn’t it also time that Mr. Ban Ki-Moon, the Secretary General of the United Nations brings the situation in Kashmir to the attention of the Security Council under the provision of the Article 99 of the United Nations Charter. It is here in the region of South Asia that the two nuclear powers have been eyeball to eyeball for the last four weeks? The Article 99 authorizes the Secretary General to ‘bring to the attention of the Security Council any matter which in his opinion may threaten the maintenance of international peace and security’.
Indeed, the United Nations doctrine of the principle of ‘responsibility to protect,’ the international understanding to intervene to stop atrocities from taking place, was adopted at the 2005 World Summit. All the heads of State and government at the 2005 World Summit, without reservation, committed to the doctrine, and subsequent unanimous adoptions of General Assembly and Security Council resolutions reaffirmed the principle.
“Sometimes known as ‘R2P’ – the doctrine holds States responsible for shielding their own populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing, and related crimes against humanity, requiring the international community to step in if this obligation is not met.
Ms. Vannina Maestracci, spokesperson of Ban Ki-Moon, the Secretary General of the United Nations said on October 9, 2014 that the Secretary General “encourages the governments of India and Pakistan to resolve all differences through dialogue and to engage constructively to find a long-term solution for peace and stability in Kashmir.”
“Encouragement” to India and Pakistan through numerous resolutions have been taking place for the last 67 years. Perhaps it is time that the authority entrusted to the United Nations be taken a little more seriously.
Lastly, the world powers and the saner elements in both India and Pakistan need to realize that the bilateral talks between India and Pakistan have always remained barren. And trilateral dialogue between Governments of India, Pakistan and the leadership of Kashmir — without any precondition from any side — is the only way to resolve the issue of Kashmir once for all. Participation of Kashmiri leadership in the dialogue process is the sine qua non that will help to achieve the lasting peace and tranquility in the region of South Asia.
Dr. Fai can be reached at: email@example.com