The paring down of Ambassador Richard Holbrooke’s mandate by President Barack Obama regarding Afghanistan, Pakistan and India, especially regarding the issue of Kashmir, is a clear recognition of the new administration’s ability to learn quickly on extremely complex issues like the one’s being faced in South and Southwest Asia. A fundamental complexity that President Obama must come to grips with resides in an ability to understand the historical and ethnic complexities of the region if his new policy focus will result in a success. Of course, in the modern world, issues such as the Taliban, Al-Qaeda and other terrorist outfits in the region are believed to rest in the hands of state actors, rather than direct engagement at the local level.
Micro level approaches can and will make the necessary progress for a viable outcome to come to fruition. Hopefully, the new administration will not wait as long as the Bush Administration waited in Iraq to realize the tribal and ethnic realities that existed prior to the invasion of Iraq. It was via a process of ‘truth and reconciliation’ between Shia and Sunni tribes that such outcomes became viable in Iraq, and through the usage of the same process in Afghanistan, Pakistan and the Kashmir region of India, can success be found as well.
The necessary approaches to stem violence and regain public support of the people in the SWAT Valley and Northwest Frontier Province of Pakistan, and the turbulent areas along the Afghan border rest in exploiting cultural ties, not altruistic beliefs of nation states. Many of the Al-Qaeda fighters found in the region are in fact not from the region, and are not viewed favorably by local tribes who view their guests just as abusive and oppressive as the government. In order to make gains in these turbulent regions, Pakistani and NATO forces need to utilize the connections that can be found among the people, rather than relying on military might by leadership in Pakistan and Afghanistan long known to abuse the populations in these regions. Through the use of empathy and understanding of the proud history these tribes hold so dear. Only then when will elders accept the false jihad presented to them by outside forces.
By holding a Loya Jirga, or “Great Council” with the tribes in the region, this will allow military and diplomatic officials to isolate the outsiders who have held these people hostage for over a decade to this point. There is a specific reason why Al-Qaeda has chosen to recruit Tajik’s, Uzbek’s and Pashtun’s to engage in the majority of the fighting, and not Arab’s who fundamentally make up the leadership of Al-Qaeda. It’s called racism. During the Loya Jirga however, development assistance guarantees are a necessity that these tribes will require to insure that they will not be ignored or forgotten as they have in the past. Their sacrifices made during the 1980’s against the Soviets with US backing has not been forgotten, nor has the fact the US left them to deal with the leftovers like Osama bin Laden and the Taliban.
Failure after failure can be found in the poppy fields, gun and weapons traders and Wahabbi schools throughout the region. Wahabbism originates from Saudi Arabia, and takes the view that Arabs are superior. Cracks in Wahabbism belief has already begun to reveal itself in the terror networks have expressed growing tired of Wahabbi rhetoric justifying the suicide bombing of other Muslims along communal lines. Should NATO and diplomatic entities begin to exploit this fundamental flaw in the militant ideology coming from Al-Qaeda and their associates, the tide may surprisingly turn quicker than expected. As much as President Bush and his Administration like to point to the military surge as the reasoning of diminished violence in Iraq, it was the “Sunni Awakening” negotiated by General David Patreus with tribal elders and showing empathy and respect for their tribal history, and emphasizing the lack of respect by Saudi’s and Egyptians whose ideology sought to oppress the Iraqi tribes, not liberate them. The same can be found in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
The same approach must be taken at a micro level in Kashmir as well. Kashmir in and of itself remains a political problem created by forces in the Indian and Pakistani Governments. However, bringing the Dogra’s or Pandits of Jammu (Hindu), Hanji’s of the Valley (Muslim) and Ladakhi’s from Ladakh (Buddhist) together to reconcile their differences will force the hands of Indian and Pakistani authorities to resolve the issue to benefit the society as a whole. There is a shared history and culture of the three that continues to be recognized by all three communities and a desire to reconcile their differences. A truth and reconciliation format would be the best possible way to free the Kashmiri from differences that have been created at the nation state level, and not by the communal harmony that once existed prior to the uprising of 1989.
The Indian Government in a way of skirting the issue framed the conflict in the international media and community as a conflict along communal lines, and not the result of a rigged election. The Hindu population was essentially forced to flee to refugee camps in Jammu, which the State of India now subsidizes in an effort to keep the two communities from reconciling. Jammu-Kashmir Liberation Front Chairman Yasin Malik, a secular Muslim leader in the Valley continuously visits the camps promising the safety of the Pandit community, and calling the lack of Pandit presence in the Valley a “cultural void that can only be filled by the Pandits themselves.” However, Hindu Nationalists continue to propagate Mr. Malik as a Wahabbi demon wanting to kill all non-Muslims, and force all of Kashmir to live under Sharia law. A fact easily disputed following his recent marriage to Pakistani artist Mushaal Mullick.
It was unfortunate that leaders such as Yasin Malik chose not to run in the recent elections in Jammu and Kashmir, because more than likely; they would have come out victorious, and truth and reconciliation could have taken place at a parliamentary level, as well as tackled the public works issues necessitated in both Jammu and Kashmir, and bringing the communities together to show that the Kashmir issue is indeed political, and not along communal lines.
In both cases, a truth and reconciliation format among tribal and communal leaders throughout South and Southwest Asian territories will allow peace and prosperity to finally occur in some of the world’s most impoverished areas. If 30 years of oppression by Saddam Hussein was unable to break the common bonds of the people in Iraq, I hardly doubt that the centuries old connections can be broken by decades of warfare, oppression and neglect as well. However, the only way to break the cycle is through truth and reconciliation.