Why President Obama Ignores Human Rights in Kashmir
Since the current uprising in Kashmir began with the killing of Burhan Wani on July 8, the unjustifiable and violent attack with bullets, birdshot from pump-action shotguns and extreme cane beatings by Indian military forces upon many of some 200,000 mourners who attended his funeral, who were in technical violation of a rigid curfew that was established by the police and armed forces, has provoked numerous demonstrations and violent clashes between residents. Demonstrations have occurred across the globe by non-resident Kashmiris and other human rights activists. The curfews and clashes have now been sustained for over five weeks, with limited or no access to the basic necessities of life, including food, power and fuel, and the protests have continued almost unabated, with injuries reaching close to 10,000, deaths over 92, and some 570 at last count left blinded, and many more maimed from what have been euphemistically called “pellet” wounds. While Kashmir has been under siege for many decades by the largest military occupation in the world, the recent uptick in what is nothing less than an effort to terrorize the population into submission and silence has been particularly brutal.
On August 30, a letter was submitted to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry by NRK, or non resident Kashmiris, saying, “This latest situation has been met with inexplicable silence by the United States. This has given a sense of total impunity to India to exercise the use of unprecedented force on unarmed Kashmiri civilians. It has also created the impression that the United States is selective about the application of the principles of human rights and democratic values. What is the significance of an alliance between the great democracy (USA) and the so-called largest democracy in the world (India), when universal principles, democratic values, and human rights are knowingly ignored?”
Coincidently, on August 30, the U.S. and India signed a mutual defense compact, agreeing to share bases, resources and logistics in the Far East. At the same time, human rights and what was at least a semblance of being the symbol of democratic freedoms has seemingly all but disappeared from the U.S. agenda. Not a word, at least publicly, has been mentioned by President Obama or other U.S. officials that would indicate that some pressure is being applied toward India to exercise restraint in Kashmir and permit an airing of grievances by the angry population. The familiar cries of Azadi (freedom) and “Go India Go Back” continue to fall on deaf ears, not only in India but upon those in the U.S. administration who undoubtedly know the truth on the ground, but instead have chosen to play politics with the facts. India’s rhetoric continues to blame Pakistan for incitement and cross-border terrorism, and the U.S. has conveniently accepted that propaganda line in the interest of selling India more weapons and paving the way for other U.S. investors. In September of last year, according to Bloomberg, “ India’s cabinet approved a $3 billion deal for Boeing Co. military helicopters. The 22 Apache attack choppers and 15 Chinook cargo choppers comprised the biggest defense contract since Prime Minister Modi came to power.” India surged to become the U.S.’s second largest weapons buyer..
Meanwhile, US State Department Spokesperson Elizabeth Trudeau said on August 16, 2016 that our position on Kashmir has not changed. “The pace, the scope, the character of any discussions in Kashmir is for the two sides to determine”. Trudeau said we support any and all positive steps that India and Pakistan can take to forge closer relations. “We’re aware of the clashes”, Trudeau added.
This obviously does not bode well for anyone looking for U.S. support for human rights causes. Particularly in Kashmir. The bipartisan support that Kashmir issue was given by the United States Administration at the United Nations seem to be disappearing. Is it because the United States was wrong then or is it because United States policy towards international legality and morality has changed?History has demonstrated a significantly different approach to foreign policy toward Kashmir. Secretary of State John Foster Dulles (Republican) stated at the UN on February 5, 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.”
American representative to the United Nations, Adlai Stevenson (Democrat), stated on June 15, 1962 that: “The best approach is to take for a point of departure the area of common ground which exists between the parties. I refer of course to the resolutions which were accepted by both parties and which in essence provide for demilitarization of the territory and a plebiscite whereby the population may freely decide the future status of Jammu and Kashmir. This is in full conformity with the principle of the self‑determination of people which is enshrined in Article I of the Charter as one of the key purpose for which the United Nations exists;”
President Obama himself said during his 2008 Presidential campaign that the U.S. ought to help resolve the conflict over Kashmir. But as an editorial in the Nation the following year indicates, “President Obama’s comment that the U.S. should help resolve the Kashmir dispute rattled India, and now it seems that the U.S. Administration is dragging its feet. The issue of Kashmir remains the core issue in relations between Pakistan and India. Bruce Riedel [former CIA analyst at the Brookings Institution], who chaired the White House review that formulated Obama’s Af-Pak strategy, is quoted by a news agency on Sunday as saying that the Obama Administration, ‘does not intend to meddle in Kashmir.’”
What is conspicuous is that since the Iraq war, and Libya, and now Syria, a cynicism has grown toward any acknowledgement of issues of sovereignty and human rights. These issues have pretty much fallen off the map. U.S. leadership has become almost completely absent on any voice for such rights, unless we are talking about Assad or Putin or some other figure whose cooperation in the international matters are questionable. Corporate priorities, international banking interests, and the needs of Wall Street have taken control of governments everywhere, particularly in both India and the United States. It is extremely difficult to see any value in even discussing human rights, because these have taken a backseat, if they even have been permitted a seat, at any discussions concerning national interest.
In addition, there has been a shift from political priorities to religious priorities and an ultra-nationalism that trumpets “Neighborhood first’ in India, much in the style and mode of Donald Trump’s “America First,” where the sectarian divide now holds stronger ground than any consideration for democratic principles. In the U.S. we have a similar shift, a growing nationalism combined with a distorted sense of American exceptionalism by some Conservatives, led by Donald Trump, that erodes further any consideration for democratic rights elsewhere in the world, or on the left, a New World Order imperialism which seems to be the primary agenda of neoliberals who have co-opted the priorities of the left.
One wonders why President Obama isn’t listening to the voice of Dr. Martin Luther King. President Obama was envisioned as the man who would bring “change,” a man whose roots and affinity in black culture gave him some significant cachet with the oppressed. While he is popularly known for his Harvard Law School days, and a brief stint as a Constitutional law professor, what has been largely forgotten is that he has a much deeper background in foreign relations and international politics and a substantial focus on economic pursuits. At Columbia he did not major in law but in political science and international relations. He then went to work for Business International (BI).
As a research associate in BI’s financial services division, “he edited Financing Foreign Operations, a global reference service, and wrote for Business International Money Report, a weekly financial newsletter. His responsibilities included “interviewing business experts, researching trends in foreign exchange, following market developments.” Since taking office, he has fallen back on that experience and is better known for his ties to Wall Street than to his interest in the Constitution and justice and as an advocate for the less privileged..
The advocacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, that injustice is immoral, seem to have no effect on the mindset of experts in the corridors of power in Washington. As King said, “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” We have perhaps no outstanding examples of that kind of courage that is needed by principled men in times of challenge and controversy.. Dr. King would not believe that a person of high intellect like President Obama would ignore this golden rule and not speak for the oppressed people of Kashmir. Yet he is briefed almost everyday about the suffering and pain inflicted upon the people of Kashmir by the Indian army.
How is it possible to talk about human rights all day when not at the negotiating table it’s not even on the agenda?
Trade and commercial deals are important but not at the expense of the high moral ground American exceptionalism has always claimed. Moral values and human rights are the very essence of even being called civilized.
The massive pain and indignities that Kashmiris suffer are only significant when they reach a pitch that the mainstream press starts noticing, as the New York Times did recently, and realizes it can capitalize on viewing audience because of the violence and mayhem. The usual platitudes are rushed out to put a public face on it, but there is no incentive for change. Only the realization that eventually things will die down, that the curfews will end, with India regaining full control, and then everyone can return to the money pit, trading in dollars, jets and other military hardware.
It is quite unfortunate that the Obama administration and the United Nations both have chosen to adopt India’s view that this is simply a bilateral issue. This is a political mask similar to that worn by the Joker in the Batman series intended to deceive. Unfortunately, it is the Big Lie, and an extremely dangerous one. As long as India continues to blame Pakistan for problems in Kashmir, India and Pakistan remain on the verge of war with each other, and this is a threat to international peace. When two nuclear countries are facing each other down, as they have for going on 70 years, with already three wars under their belts, that’s not a bilateral issue whatsoever. That has the makings of a world war. Nothing else demands international attention like such a threat, and it greatly behooves the United States, the United Nations and other allies to sit up and take heed.
Dr. Fai is the Secretary General, World Kashmir Awareness.