Monday, September 12, 2011

Wikileaks Leaked US Cables Reveals Truth About Kashmir

Recently released US State Department cables by Wikileaks underscores how India and Pakistan have kept the conflict alive via financial collusion with separatists, mainstream politicians and militant groups, with the exception of one separatist who continually stated that the “money-game” is the real reason the conflict still exists today.

The most recent cache of US State Department cables released by Wikileaks, specifically the cables from the New Delhi Embassy, paints a clear picture of how India and Pakistan have kept the Kashmir conflict alive and well for a myriad of reasons. The direct involvement of both countries’ government, military and intelligence apparatuses in the six-decade-old conflict led to the senseless killing of over 100,000 lives, not to mention disrupting the communal harmony that once led to rock anthems about Kashmir’s ephemeral beauty, and known simply as ‘Shangri-La’.

In 2006, then US Ambassador to India David Mulford wrote a classified cable titled “Kashmiri Politics as Filthy as Dal Lake”, along with a host of other significant cables specifically regarding the conflict. Amb. Mulford stated that “Corruption cuts across party lines and most Kashmiri’s take it as an article of faith that politically-connected Kashmiri’s take money from both India and Pakistan.” Mulford added that, “money from Pakistani and Indian intelligence agencies and from Saudi and other foreign extremists has further distorted Kashmiri politics, incentivized leaders to perpetuate the conflict, and perverted state and central government institutions.” As someone who worked on the issue at the Kashmiri American Council, I know first hand how money, power and influence has directly undermined the prospects of peace.

The unspoken truths commonly understood by those working on the issue from the inside, and confirmed via the released cables, are that two human tragedies and development complications exist due to the childish nature both sides continue to play. First, the average Kashmiri lives every day in fear not knowing if the next time he or she steps out their door, it may be their last. Moreover, that the person who will ultimately kill, rape or torture them may or may not where an authorized uniform, but certainly will not suffer any form of prosecution or arrest for doing so. In fact, they may even get a bonus if they are lucky.

The dysfunction created by India and Pakistan resulted in an insurrection communally cleansing the Valley of the Pandit population over a rigged election in 1987. The result of this to the present day is the death of over 100,000 Kashmiri’s, both Muslim and Hindu, thousands of which are buried in mass graves. Then there are the billion plus South Asians in general, who are continually held hostage to the threat of war, terrorism or retaliatory communal killings throughout both countries outside of the Kashmir region. Ultimately what it shows is that both India and Pakistan view any casualties of the conflict as ‘collateral damage’, and in many cases more dollars to be secured for the military industrial complex. The irony of all this is that the one person who started and led the insurrection, comes off looking like the only non-state actor not on the corruption dole.

Surprisingly, Ambassador Mulford acknowledges that India admittedly rigged the Kashmiri elections in 1987. This resulted in Yasin Malik, Chairman of the Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front and a pollster for the party who lost the election, to pick up arms, and wage war against not only the Indian Military, but unleashed his wrath on the Pandit population as well. This was accomplished via direct training, funding and logistical support by the Pakistani military, and more importantly the ISI. However, the past fifteen years Mr. Malik has engaged in his own form of ‘truth and reconciliation’ by visiting the refugee camps in Jammu, asking for forgiveness and for the Pandits to return to the Valley. Finally, given his background as a militant, he has served as an interlocutor of sorts between militants and the two governments. It must be acknowledged that funding and support via the ISI has continued from Pakistan, where militants seem to choose between fighting the Indians or going to Afghanistan and fighting their ever expanding Jihad.

In actuality, Mr. Malik has engaged in a six-year campaign to root the corruption out of Kashmir. His saving grace from steering clear of the corruption results from two key aspects; he’s secular and he’s from extremely humble beginnings. His ability to maintain legitimacy and relevance in Kashmiri politics stems from one reason; he has actually fought for his people and not just stood behind the walls of privilege like his counterparts in both the mainstream and separatist movements.

Having worked on the Kashmir issue for the last six years either as a government relation liaison, or as an independent analyst, I can say without a doubt the US Government fully understands and appreciates the twisted reality of the Kashmir problem. Additionally, the US Government understands the hypersensitivity that India has towards third party intervention due to it’s own complicity in corruption, rape and murder inside Kashmir. Unfortunately, the economic relationship between the United States and India appears for now to be trumping the ability to apply the necessary pressure to force India and Pakistan to finally bring the conflict to its rightful conclusion.

I spent six weeks on the ground in Kashmir in 2008, visiting with Yasin Malik, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Syed Ali Geelani. All three gave contrasting views, and in hindsight, the analysis from the former Ambassador was spot on. With the release of the cables from former Ambassador Mulford, one could only hope that both India and Pakistan will begin to see the writing on the wall. Otherwise the cables to be released may find some of the military and civilian leadership spending some time in Holland at the ICC.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Mass grave sights in Kashmir offer only one solution to India and Pakistan, Truth and Reconciliation.

The recent acknowledgement by authorities of the mass graves discovered in Indian Administered Kashmir over three years ago by Dr. Angana Chatterji and her colleagues initially brought hope to a region that the truth of the last 60 years in this troubled region will finally come to light. Additionally, recognition that the graves are in fact civilians who have “disappeared”, and not what the Indian Military claimed as “foreign combatants from Pakistan” by not only local officials, but groups such as Amnesty International, as well as Hindu based groups in both India and the Kashmir region as well. The recognition by Hindu based organizations not only grants a greater sense of legitimacy, but highlights a fundamental complexity that the outside world continues to misunderstand with regards to the historical and ethnic complexities of the region. In fact, the mass graves reveal that local issues are at the heart of the matter, and that to some, that a terrorist from Pakistan and Indian Military Personnel are one in the same. It is through this recognition along communal lines that South African style ‘truth and reconciliation’ may be the ultimate way forward to solving this six decade long conflict.

In South Africa, it was through the process of truth and reconciliation that peace was possible between the sacked Afrikaan Government, and the newly elected Nelson Mandela government. More recently in Iraq, ‘truth and reconciliation’ between Shia and Sunni tribes initiated by General David Patreus, had a greater impact on lowering sectarian violence in Iraq than the overly publicized troop surge of the Bush Administration. This format is possible if utilized through the proper cultural methodology, the questions is, are the governments of both India and Pakistan interested in such a proposal, and admitting unfortunate truths of state sanctioned terrorism, militant support, rape and torture?

Kashmir in and of itself remains a political problem created by forces by both 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 recognized by all three communities and a desire to reconcile their differences. A truth and reconciliation format presents the best possible way to free the Kashmiri from differences created at the nation state level, and restoring the communal harmony that once existed prior to the uprising of 1989. The only way to begin this process however, both India and Pakistan must undue the revisionist history both sides continue to propagate, and the truth must finally be disclosed, and perpetrators must come forward with their crimes that continue to cause millions to suffer.

First of all, it must be recognized that both the Indian Government and the Muslims in the Valley who took up their arms and essentially “ethnically cleansed” the Valley of Pandits must be agreed upon. Only from this starting point will the Indian Government find an acceptable beginning, rather than the continued mantra by Kashmiri Muslims that Indian military personnel perpetrated the only crimes against civilians. Next, the Indian Government must cease in it’s continued efforts to frame the conflict in the international media and community as a conflict along communal lines, and not the result of a rigged election, which is actually the case. 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. Mr. Malik was a major part of the Pandit cleansing during the late 80’s and early 90’s, however he has initiated his own form of truth and reconciliation by visiting the camps, apologizing to family member, especially those he directly impacted in an extremely heinous manner.

On the flip side, the Indian Military must come clean not only about the graves, but address the issue of “half-widows”, assassinations, disappearances, rapes and killings that leadership continues to rule out as “encounters.” Recently, one such false encounter took place where the Indian Military claimed to have killed a Hizbul Mujahideen leader turned out to be a Hindu civilian once the encounter was investigated by outside investigators. Moreover, the fact that multiple gravesites continue to be discovered and upon closer inspection, are filled with the bodies of children and women, rather than supposed militants from Pakistan, also continue to inflame local populations. However, rather than engage in violent encounters with the military, which would be the supposed action of a population who continues to be accused of supporting and participating in militancy, they engage in non-violent protest as they have over the past six years.

To some, this idea may just be viewed as another pie in the sky idea from an outsider. However, as someone who has worked closely with the many of the separatist leaders in the Kashmir region, as well as initiated dialogue between the people of Kashmir and the Indian and Pakistani Government, I know this is possible. It will take the ability of both sides to admit fault, but accept the responsibility of the pain they have inflicted on a population whose only crime is being ethnically Kashmiri. As more graves are uncovered, truth and reconciliation will be the only way forward to finally bring this six decade long conflict to its rightful conclusion.