Introduction to Blog

I launched the website and the Blog after having spoken to government officials, political analysts and security experts specializing in South Asian affairs from three continents. The feedback was uniformly consistent. The bottom line is that when Kashmiris are suffering and the world has its own set of priorities, we need to find ways to help each other. We must be realistic, go beyond polemics and demagoguery, and propose innovative ideas that will bring peace, justice and prosperity in all of Jammu and Kashmir.

The author had two reasons to create this blog. First, it was to address the question that was being asked repeatedly, especially, by journalists and other observers in the U.S., U.K., and Canada, inquiring whether the Kashmiri society was concerned about social, cultural and environmental challenges in the valley given that only political upheaval and violence were reported or highlighted by media.

Second, the author has covered the entire spectrum of societal issues and challenges facing Kashmiri people over an 8-year period with the exception of politics given that politics gets all the exposure at the expense of REAL CHALLENGES that will likely result in irreversible degradation in the quality of life and the standard of living for future generations of Kashmiris to come.

The author stopped adding additional material to the Blog once it was felt that most, if not all, concerns, challenges and issues facing the Kashmiri society are cataloged in the Blog. There are over 1900 entries in the Blog and most commentaries include short biographical sketches of authors to bring readers close to the essence of Kashmir. Unfortunately, the 8-year assessment also indicates that neither Kashmiri civil society, nor intellectuals or political leadership have any inclination or enthusiasm in pursuing issues that do not coincide with their vested political agendas. What it means for the future of Kashmiri children and their children is unfathomable. But the evidence is all laid out.

This Blog is a reality check on Kashmir. It is a historical record of how Kashmir lost its way.

Vijay Sazawal, Ph.D.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Unraveling American Intentions

Riyaz offers his perspective, but one can also argue that American efforts to mainstrean Hurriyat into relevance have been resisted by separatists

(Mr. Riyaz Masroor, 36, was born and raised in Srinagar. He is a Srinagar based journalist who writes in English, Urdu and kashmiri. Besides working in the local press, his articles have appeared on BBC Radio online, Himal Southasia and the Journal of International Federation of Journalists.)

America and Kashmir Polls

Wisner supported elections in 1996, Powell in 2002; this year Rice came and left without a word on elections. Seeing violence getting irrelevant in Kashmir US may have grown averse to further advocacy of Kashmir polls.

Why has New Delhi developed cold feet about holding elections in Jammu and Kashmir? Plenty of reasons could be cited. J&K polls are due at the top of a resurrected separatist movement that has almost crowded out the mainstream politics; the pro-election forces, it is being argued, may need more time to reassert amidst a hostile electorate that has once again drifted toward separatism and Congress may not allow BJP a walkover in Jammu because the recent land row has galvanized BJP’s support base.

Security cannot be an issue, it never was. In fact elections for Kashmir assembly have never been a smooth affair. For past five decades they were held in uncertain times, and most of them were mired in fraud and coercion. Instead of a festive democratic mood an overwhelming security paradigm would always dominate the poll-talk with threats of sabotage by militants looming larger.

More importantly, every time elections became ‘necessary’ a ‘green signal’ would emanate from US and Pakistan to make the exercise look closer to plebiscite if not its straight alternative.

This year the signal from Pakistan is rather more forthcoming than it was in 2002 but there is no ‘hint’ from US, contrary to 1996 and 2002, except for a faint acknowledgement of improvement in Indo-Pak relations by US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

“Relations have improved a lot. They (India and Pakistan) have opened lines of communication in Kashmir; they've opened trade and bus traffic … it is a lot better situation than it was in 2001 and 2002,” Rice told Greta Van Susteren of FOX News following her visit to India where she signed the nuclear deal document with her counterpart, Pranabh Mukharji on October 10, 2008.

Of significant note is the fact that in the summers of 1996 and 2002, both election years in J&K, US had clearly supported Kashmir elections. When the American ambassador to India Frank G. Wisner spoke to Pakistani military officers in the middle of 1996, election in J&K had already been announced for September.

Wisner urged Pakistani army to accept the Kashmir vote as an “alternative to conflict.”

As reported in The New York Times in the summer of 1996, Wisner urged upon Pakistani generals, “No effort to end the conflict in the state (of Jammu and Kashmir) will succeed until all concerned acknowledge that after 50 years, there are certain fundamental realities that will not change”. While clearly hinting that Washington was supporting Delhi’s position, at least on the part of Kashmir under Indian control, Wisner also urged New Delhi to ensure that the elections in Kashmir were free from “military intimidation”.

Neither Pakistan nor India listened to Wisner. Scores of political workers were killed with dozens of polling booths coming under militant attack during 1996 elections. Amidst a near total boycott Indian army would herd people to polling stations and government gunmen would capture the booths in order to get their favorite candidates win. Nevertheless Mr Wisner would later walk a step further by exhorting the separatist leadership toward a bilateral dialogue with New Delhi. He met with several separatist leaders from Hurriyat Conference however Shabir A Shah was dismissed from Hurriyat membership for meeting him one-on-one.

1996 elections threw up a downright corrupt regime in the form of Farooq Abdullah-led National Conference government. However the government survived full term. 2002 was again the election year. This time it was US Secretary of State Colin L. Powell to have a whistle-stop tour of India and Pakistan in July. His remark “Kashmir is on international agenda” would have created a furore within India had he not padded it up with his open support for Kashmir elections, which were due in October that year.

On July 29 2002 Mr Powell several times referred to Kahsmir polls and reiterated, “Elections in Kashmir could serve as a first step toward a renewed dialogue.” Like Wisner did in 1996 Powell too urged India to make sure the elections were free and open and allowed to be monitored by outside monitors if not formal watchdog groups, which India would oppose.

According to Amy Waldman’s September 16, 2002 report in the New York Times, Powell in his speech had encouraged Kahsmiri separatists to prove their popularity through elections so that they could take part in the negotiations between India and Pakistan?

Contrary to what happened in 1996, in 2002 response from New Delhi and Islamabad was near total. Lesser number of political killings and largely a fair election across J&K though some manipulation was reported. The elections were taking place in the immediate backdrop of 9/11 and Pakistan’s turnaround on Kashmir Jihad had already eased the tension across LoC that finally led to a cease-fire in November 2003.

It is in this context why the elections of 2002 that brought in power a coalition of embittered political cousins, Ghulam Nabi Azad and Mufti Muhammad Sayeed, are still seen as a watershed in Kashmir’s mainstream politics.

Indirect involvement of Mr Wisner and Mr Powell in two crucial elections during past 12 years is very significant. The street gossip that in every Kashmir affair a hidden US hand has been there to goad India and Pakistan toward some interim truce and both countries later give credit to their respective advocates on Kashmir, does not appear entirely out of place.

Then why Ms Condi Rice during her recent visit to India did not follow Wisner and Powell to support elections in Kashmir? She conspicuously steered clear of venturing into that area and stuck to LoC CBMs stating that India and Pakistan had improved their relationship ever since Musharraf took charge of defusing tensions.

At a time when Pakistan’s fresh face in Aiwan-e-Sadar is denouncing Kashmir’s armed resistance as “terrorism”, when the separatist coalition in Kashmir is loudly talking of non-violence and when the armed Kashmiri leadership based at Muzaffarabad is more than willing to come over ground, US seems averse to further advocacy of elections in Kashmir.

What is New Delhi waiting for?

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