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.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Can Obama Really Affect Kashmir's Future?

Shuhab puts a well deserved damper on unrealistic expectations

(Shuhab Hashmi, 38, was born in Baramulla, and graduated from the Degree College in Sopore, and completed his M.A. from the University of Kashmir. He is a Columnist, and in his spare time enjoys reading, discussions and traveling.)

Global Great Game and Kashmir

Amid the boycott of elections and brisk polling in first phase, Kashmir is euphoric over the possible role of United States of America in resolving the taxing dispute between India and Pakistan. It was generated by one odd statement by President-elect Barrack Obama who, besides expressing his concern over Kashmir, also hinted at appointing one of his predecessors, Bill Clinton, as the point on Kashmir. There is no doubt that new Democratic regime in Washington would work towards mending the fences with Muslim world which feels bruised at the hands of Bush administration, especially after September 11 attacks. Barrack Obama has indicated that he would set in motion the US troops rollback from Iraq which is not only costing it much on military front but has led to a widening wedge between US and the Muslims.

Democrats in any case would not follow the radical line adopted by Republicans but apparently it is not possible to change the foreign policy overnight to appease the Muslims at the time US continues to feel threatened from the forces of the likes of Osama Bin Laden. The immediate change in Washington's policy may not be imminent and it is difficult to see US ignoring the allies like Israel and completely befriending Palestine. The impression that Obama comes from a Muslim background and can be radically pro Muslim is also a misplaced idea. His task will be to maintain a fine balance between the two faiths, that are otherwise on a warpath at one level.
In the backdrop of consistent changes the global politics has witnessed after 9/11, the priorities for American administration have altogether taken a different shape. So the statements from Obama about Kashmir needed to be viewed in that context rather than a knee jerk response which could lead to a false impression that the solution was imminent. The US policy in South Asia is largely focused on Afghanistan, Taliban, Al Qaeda and most importantly Pakistan which is the nerve centre of the so called "War on Terror". This situation has to been seen in the context of India's leap in its diplomatic journey in the shape of all important US-India nuclear deal where in New Delhi could manage NSG waiver amid stiff resistance from some countries.

It is true that Kashmir was on the agenda of Clinton administration and the concerns expressed by the administration through the then Secretary of State Madeline Albright were of immense important to the region and seen as indicators of seriousness on part of Washington to see Kashmir dispute settled. India was always poles apart from US especially in the cold war period thus making enough space for Pakistan to be close to it, notwithstanding China's influence over the country. It was a compulsion for US to ally with Pakistan in presence of another world power called USSR. But sooner the equations started changing in the region, with New Delhi emerging as a leader in South Asia - thus covertly dictating to its small neighbours. However, Pakistan managed to steer through pressure and even competed India in nuclear tests and at the same time continued troubling India in Kashmir which even led to low intensity war Kargil, in 1999.

India's viewpoint that terrorism was a scourge was not taken so seriously by the West, especially US and its allies, until the hell broke loose on the country in the shape of 9/11. Many analysts believe that it was a watershed development which pushed ahead a new political alignment. India managed to convince the American policy makers that the terrorism was hitting it in a similar way and also gave an understanding that Pakistan was the "breeding centre" of this phenomenon of terror. Though US immediately allied with Pakistan on the war on terror but its suspicion about Islamabad's involvement in the overall game never allowed it to think on positive lines vis-à-vis Islamabad.

Now that Pakistan is embroiled in this war, alongside US, the primary concern for Washington is to come to terms with the actors in Afghanistan. Whether it will fall in line with Taliban or take repressive measures to curb them, remains to be seen. But Obama has made it clear that his administration will not be soft on Al Qaeda and its supporters. In that great game Pakistan is in a peculiar situation, where it cannot dictate to US. The trans-border attacks on Pakistani soil are also continuing despite the strong opposition from Yusuf Raza Gillani's government. Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari, during his visit to UN has assured Americans that he will support them in much effective manner than his predecessor Parvez Musharraf, and to be after the Taliban and Al Qaeda members is on top of that agenda for which Pakistani soil is in use since 2003. But this situation is all set to further weaken Pakistan both internally and externally. While the extremist forces within Pakistan, who are essentially against US have potential to upset the Islamabad-Washington relation and push the country into further economic and political instability, externally the country is bound to be alienated as its image as a country of "terrorist infestation" will not easily fade away.

Obama's remarks on Kashmir can then be seen in isolation and not in the context of its relation with Pakistan. To the extent of stating that it is a dispute it will be presumably fine with new dispensation in White House, but will it withstand the growing influence and pressure of New Delhi in going out of way to dictate a third party intervention. That possibility seems to be remote in the wake of Pakistan's weaker position on the global arena. US pressure could work only in case Pakistan was strongly positioned and able to mould the other world opinion in her favour. As for now US is unlikely to part ways with India, but at the same time has to cajole Pakistan. While Afghanistan is in the priority range Pakistan is in no position to bargain with Washington on Kashmir. It is time to wait till Obama takes over in January and then the foreign policy rules will follow; most probably without much change.

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