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, November 6, 2008

Amazing How the Satan has Suddenly Become a Darling

Riyaz hopes that President-elect Obama will focus on Kashmir, when in fact Kashmir is not even #300 on Obama's priority list

(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.)

Kashmir awaits Obama touch

The remark on Kashmir dispute by America's first-ever mixed-race President has spurred hopes of CHANGE in the Himalayan region

The Kashmir's out-of-touch elitist urban class may insist that common man in Kashmir doesn't bother what happens to the outer world. But the Wednesday morning marked an intriguing contrast when the commoners as well as the connoisseurs discussed Barack Hussain Obama, who became the first ever mixed-race President of America.
The Town kept abuzz with this remarkable development, which, many believe, will certainly have bearing on Indo-Pak relations and Kashmir's future polity. In a city salon the same morning, I heard habitual gossipers share funny yet interesting observations. A gritty small-scale trader pitched in thus: "I was not sure that they (Americans) would allow Obama a win because of his Muslim background, but he got it. Perhaps democracy works in America."

I don't know what stopped me from putting the record straight and telling him that Obama was a professed Christian not a Muslim, perhaps his conclusion about democracy. After all it was certainly a democratic triumph because a country born with the stigmatic birthmark of slavery had the first African-American, black man as the forty-fourth President. In fact the public talk, which kept going on in Srinagar throughout Wednesday at bus stops, community squares, University campuses, offices and garment showrooms had a common theme: Democracy. Contrary to the perceived notions of a pan-Islamic surge, this shows an intense craving for democracy among Kashmiris.

One could make out the intensity of this craving from the facial expressions of Kashmiri youth watching on TV those frenetic American audiences, greeting their new leader. Mused a young bright colleague: "I wish we could do all this. Elect a leader of our choice, then gather in open and wave flags." I chose to comfort him by a positive response and told him that we can enjoy similarly if we accept the ensuing elections as a political reality. To my utter amazement this 20-something journalist said he had always longed to cast his vote ever since he turned 18 but, he added, "the elections in Kashmir don't enjoy the same sanctity as they enjoy in any other state of India or for that matter in America."

Whenever an unusual democratic verdict comes through in New Delhi or Washington (Pakistan is not in reckoning) Kashmir gasps with hope and anxiety. When in 2004 the Indian electorate voted a foreigner lady, Sonia Gandhi, to power it was an unusual verdict, Kashmiris envied and wished if they could enjoy such voting power. But that was not to be. Now that the Americans, despite their latent racial prejudices, have rallied behind a black man, Kahsmiris again look at this global development with an increased urge for democratic rights. This urge makes even greater sense because the man to enter White House in January is a Democrat.

Whether or not Kashmir has once again become part of international agenda for big powers, the challenge for New Delhi and its protagonists in J&K would be how to make the elections in Kashmir as a legitimate exercise. But the bitter truth is that efforts to galvanize elections in Kashmir as an alternative to the loudly promised right of self-determination have repeatedly failed despite visible popular participation.

Now both National Conference and Peoples Democratic Party are trying to appropriate their political stakes in the given situation. Backroom boys of both parties have worked overtime to paraphrase the elections in Kashmir. While the PDP insists that Kashmir dispute has internal and external dimensions and the election falls in the internal dimension, the NC has of late chosen to de-link elections from the process of Kashmir dispute. But at the same time NC's and PDP's interpretation of polls is widely viewed at best a mask against their separatist rivals and at worst a couched assistance to New Delhi's actual policy about Kashmir polls. Both parties may have had a belated 'afterthought' about their support for J&K's accession with Union of India but current stances of both appear too sterile to address the modern Kashmiri aspiration for democracy. More importantly, the people view their claims with suspicion because they have not been able to influence let alone change the core Kashmir policy of either India or Pakistan.

This was remarkably evident during a recent debate over Kashmir between India and Pakistan in the UN general assembly. Indian delegate Mr Rajiv Shukla termed J&K a part of India and equated the elections in the state with the plebiscite. "The people of Jammu and Kashmir exercised their right to self-determination at the time of India's independence and have since then repeatedly participated in free, fair and open elections at all levels," Mr Shukla said in UN assembly on Monday. Rejecting Indian claims, Pakistani voice in UN Mr Abdullah Hussain Haroon said, "Jammu and Kashmir is an internationally recognized disputed territory according to several UN resolutions. The Security Council's demand for free and fair plebiscite under the UN auspices still remains to be implemented."

It was in this tense backdrop that the President-elect Obama stressed the need to resolve Kashmir in order to give enough leverage to Pakistan for a decisive battle against Taliban and Al-Qaeda. Obama has already made it known that he considers Afghanistan a "good war" as compared to Iraq's "bad war". So, Kashmir has crept into America's new foreign policy agenda with India and Pakistan holding on to their respective bargain. Obama's foreign policy team, which may include South Asia experts like Bruce Riedel, will have to devise a method how to address the modern democratic aspiration of Kashmir. Pakistan's answer to it is an UN-monitored plebiscite to which India will feel jittery and India insists elections since 1956 have rendered the plebiscite obsolete but the ground situation starkly contradicts this assertion. Big brains have failed to find out a grey area between these two positions. But, some sections believe, times were never so tense in Asia as well as in the West to unleash an 'automatic solution' for Kashmir. Obama may have arrived at a right moment. He has struck victory on the slogan of change. Will the change trickle down to a far removed corner of Kashmir?

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