Sunday, January 18, 2009

Kashmir: Prospects for a Durable Peace

During the confirmation hearings of Dr. Susan Rice as President-elect Barack Obama's nominee for Ambassador to the United Nations, she highlighted many of the issues that the UN must tackle in order to make a safer and more just world. However, she highlighted long lasting disputes that institutions such as the United Nations has allowed to continually fester, without taking the extra step to force nation states to once and for all bring to a conclusion. Just as Barack Obama continually stated during his campaign to the Presidency, one of the the issues Dr. Rice not only mentioned, but highlighted, was the issue of Kashmir. This continued focus of the Kashmir Issue has obviously been felt throughout not only South Asia, where the Indian Government, or at least the hardliners in the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), continues to reject outside intervention or mediation on behalf of foreign governments and refer to the Kashmir Issue as an 'internal matter.'

As a matter of fact, Kashmir is not an internal matter that India can claim as its own. There are three nuclear powers in the region, Pakistan, China and of course India, who are vying for a stake in the embattled region. Following the tragedy in Mumbai, it was apparent that this is a fact that the majority of news agencies failed to recognize. Every report consisted of either 'muslim terrorists homegrown in India' or 'Kashmiri terrorists based in Pakistan.' The fact it, it was neither. It was plan hatched together by a group who is Pakistani. They have ties with groups in Afghanistan, as well as the Uighurs in China who are active in Western China and the Siachen region of Kashmir, which also partly lies in Chinese territory. Recognition of this fact by the incoming administration will be necessary if a successful approach to resolving the sixty year old conflict is to be brought to its final conclusion. This will take a fundamental understanding of what and who the players are, and the realities on the ground throughout the region of Kashmir, and South Asia in general in order to succeed.

Kashmir’s status remains a festering sore at the crossroads of two enormous and expanding economies, petrol-rich central Asia, and two countries paramount to a successful conclusion of the war on terror. A lasting resolution remains elusive for three predominant reasons, with a prospect of hope still viable. First, neglect by the international community resulting in declining confidence of civil society in the region. Second, a war of resources between China, India and Pakistan over the issue of water and energy, impacting over 2 billion people in the worlds fastest growing economic sector. Finally, ending once and for all sectarian differences exasperated extremists in both India and Pakistan. Only after addressing these three points, could the United States Government sow a seed of stability in the region.

By engaging stakeholders on all key issues, the opportunities presented throughout the region will be vast. It will undercut Islamic extremists’ ability to frame the United States as a hegemonic power and grant people the ability to decide their future. The United States will redefine itself as a peace broker in a region where public opinion views the United States as a country projecting its power with the intent of enslaving people through its own cultural ideals. The economic outcomes from peaceful settlement in the region will open avenues for greater investment regionally, and expand global trade in textiles, food exports and human exchange.

International Facilitation: Following the Cold War, international leadership failed in taking a direct role in facilitating a solution to the crisis Kashmir Issue. Due in large part to this neglect, a blame game ensued without responsible nations intervening to demand stakeholders to take responsibility for the deteriorating situation. Moreover, the lack of intervention permitted segments of both the Kashmiri, Indian and Pakistani population to become radicalized by outside forces who sought to fill the vacuum of influence of the Kashmiri issue on both Hindu and Muslim sectarian lines. The Hindu-Muslim divide became a scapegoat used by India and Pakistan to create apprehension by nation states from understanding the reality of the situation. In this void, responsible leadership in Kashmir organically developed addressing this issue autonomously.

The rise of India and China as pivotal global economies created a situation where the greatest issues affecting the Kashmir Issue have primarily gone ignored. Should the United States, with responsible partners facilitate or encourage dialogue, preventing the immediate stakeholders from further ignoring these key issues, the benefits will have a direct impact throughout the region, affecting other regional issues of concern, specifically Iran and Afghanistan. There is no doubt that economics is at the heart of the Kashmir Issue. The question remains, will the international community finally close one of the last chapters of colonial legacy?

Resources: Currently, the Kashmir Issue centers on natural resources, specifically water from the Siachen Glacier Region, and hydroelectric power in the Chenab region of Doda in Jammu Kashmir. The Indus Water Treaty (IWT) continues serving as a benchmark of progress in the relations between India and Pakistan. However, the passing of IWT in 1960 does not properly address 21st Century energy and development needs. Moreover, the acquiescing of parts of the Siachen Glacier Region by Pakistan to China fundamentally voided the Treaty based on tenants of international law. By bringing China into the equation, Pakistan also heightened the nuclear question by granting China access to fresh drinking water for the 1.8 billion people in China, now in direct competition for fresh water with the more than 1 billion people living in India. The economic rise of China and India are dependent on resources found in the Kashmir region making it a fundamental reason why this issue must be addressed at an international level. The prospect of possible confrontation between India and China must also be addressed internationally. Annual meetings of ASEAN will provide an ideal venue to mitigate this conflict. These meetings will present greater opportunities of greater cooperation between the two rising powers regarding natural resource allocation, raising the prospects of greater regional integration, which invariably leads to greater economic prosperity and expansion.

Next, due to the growing need of water and energy by India, China and Pakistan, the threat of nuclear proliferation between India, Pakistan and China must be addressed immediately. The recent civilian nuclear agreement between India and the United States raised the possibility of a new arms race between the three nuclear states, undercutting U.S. efforts to curb Iran’s nuclear ambitions. By addressing the nuclear issue, this will impact nuclear proliferation trouble areas like Iran and North Korea by engaging in greater non-proliferation initiatives. The influence and relations between Iran and North Korea with China, India and Pakistan must be understood and fostered to meet the security needs and desires of the United States. India and Iran currently are working together on an energy oil pipeline. Pakistan and Iran are continuing on the same path regarding energy needs. China continues moderate relations with the Iranian Authority, not forgetting China’s influence over North Korea emanating from the six party talks. Finally, the civilian nuclear agreement between India and the United States will open the possibility of facilitating an agreement between India and Iran in terms of Uranium transfer for Iran’s civilian program, and ultimately eliminating the possibility of Iran engaging in a nuclear weapons program.

Kashmir Leadership: Despite the USG’s claimed acknowledgement of Kashmiri leadership as a legitimate stakeholder in the negotiation process, India and Pakistan have been permitted to ignore this position, leading to the continued social deterioration of civil society. Hindu-Muslim divisions in Kashmir are a scapegoat for India and Pakistan to avoid making the tough decisions concerning the real issues of the dispute. The Kashmiri leadership finally recognized they were played as pawns in this conflict; the strikes of the past six months were a signal to India, Pakistan and the world that the leadership demands resolution to the issue. In contrast, violence during the strikes against the decision to allocate land to the Shrine Board, resulting in the blockade of the Valley was perpetrated by Hindu nationalist groups like the RSS and BJP, and Indian Military and Paramilitary personnel, not Kashmiri Hindu and Muslim populations.

There must acknowledgement of the inability of extremist groups to radicalize the younger Kashmiri population, which makes up 78% of the general population. Unless progress begins to take shape, peace in the region will continue to fail due to the neglect of the international community to recognize the one stakeholder in the group physically and psychologically affected by the ongoing conflict. This will also lead to the radicalization of the Kashmiri youth population who grow tired of continued abuse and lack of opportunity. Kashmir continues to have the highest concentration of military forces than any region in the world. 750,000 military and paramilitary personnel are stationed in the cities Kashmir Valley in the cities and along the Line of Control. Unless India and Pakistan draw down these levels, the confidence of the Kashmiri people will remain to plague the peace process.

Based on these basic issues, solution to the Kashmir dispute will have far reaching affects due to the cultural, regional and historical dimensions already discussed here. However, there must be a new approach when conducting diplomacy with the main stakeholders, one of respect, tolerance and empathy. Without assistance from the international community - specifically the United States - India and Pakistan will allow the situation to continue to fester. The status quo is a viable outcome for India, Pakistan and China. However, should the international community recognize the Kashmiri leadership and assist in fostering a peaceful outcome, the same neglect resulting in the proliferation of nuclear weapons on one front, will continue to expand on multiple fronts, endangering one third of the world’s population.

Finally, one cannot understate the benefit if resolution to the Kashmir Issue will have on the current “War on Terrorism.” The people of Kashmir have never engaged in the use of suicide bombing. Moreover, forces such as Al-Qaeda continues to use the Kashmir Issue as a platform of recruitment for their radical agenda. By facilitating a peaceful resolution, extremist groups will be dealt a severe blow in recruiting possibilities, and foster goodwill in communities around the world not realized since the end of the Cold War.

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