October 18, 2010

India, Kashmir’s Next Battleground: Obama

Like a calm between two storms, Kashmir’s independence movement nears a decisive point in its campaign. Relative peace has fallen on Indian-controlled Jammu and Kashmir after four months of low-intensity conflict, with both sides resetting their positions. New Delhi has offered an 8-point plan along with three interlocutors while maintaining strict protests in Kashmir, leaving the All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC) to plan the next phases of its strategy and, for the time being, keep strikes to a minimum.

This will change in the run-up to US President Barack Obama’s Indian tour in early November.

In a statement issued to the press, APHC chairman Mirwaiz Umar Farooq announced, “The Executive Committee and the General Council of Hurriyat have resolved to call for third party mediation as Islamabad and New Delhi have failed to make significant progress as far as solution of Kashmir issue is concerned. We will be launching a signature campaign across J&K from Monday calling for US intervention ahead of President Obama's visit to India.”

If the APHC can deliver, its strategy offers the likeliest chance of success in achieving its goals. During fourth-generation warfare (4GW) waged through political and civil-disobedience, a movement must extend beyond the streets into the international media, generating pressure for the state in question to ease its restrictions and for the international community to intervene. At first this usually means bloody images, but over time a systematic machine must pump visual propaganda and intellectual arguments into international view.

As the Palestinians did during the First Intifada and today, spilt blood must be converted into US and European currency.

The same goes for Kashmir’s struggle, which still barely penetrates the US media and only in times of bloodshed, not the crucial periods of calm when the issue itself should be debated. The APHC needs to light a permanent fire under the international media and slowly burn its way into America. But given the perfect timing, Obama’s visit provides a potential backdoor onto the international stage that must remain occupied after he’s gone.

Kashmir is helpless without international attention and mediation, and despite a poor track record with the Palestinians, Washington remains the biggest player on the block. Still technically neutral in comparison to Pakistan and China, US support would pave the way for a possible UN resolution. Mirwaiz said the APHC reached a consensus that America should become involved in the dispute, which is recognized by the UN.

A complete strike has been scheduled for October 27, the “black day” when the Indian army first landed in Jammu and Kashmir. Mirwaiz further explained that Hurriyat leaders, if they can elude Indian house arrest, will lead peaceful marches to the UN Military Observers Group in Sonawar, culminating in protests for withdrawal of Indian troops from the territory.

Directly addressing 4GW, “Processions will be held on the day to attract attention of international community towards the fact that India was continuously denying Kashmiris their inalienable right to self-determination.”

Meanwhile a signature campaign is supposedly planned inside America.

The difference is easy to picture. On one side, a quiet conflict that Obama can pass over. On the other, massive protests on the UN in Obama’s name, protests likely to provoke Indian aggression. This creates the potent 4GW mixture of dead civilians, hostile state troops suppressing an occupied people, and demands for an international dialogue that Obama, having ignored the conflict since assuming office, would find hard to avoid.

But despite a well-organized unit in the APHC - as organized as diversity allows anyway - the situation would be dramatically altered if not for India’s continual procrastination. To a point India can be sympathized with; the loss of a territory is traumatic in itself, and especially when water rights are concerned. Kashmir also houses millions of non-Muslims who mustn’t be discriminated against or marginalized during a potential partition. Ending Kashmir’s dispute cannot come at the expense of one group over another.

However, India’s current policy is only deteriorating its position. New Delhi still clings to the idea that Kashmir is an “integral part of India” and can only be negotiated in such a context, when neither the UN, Pakistan, nor any of Kashmir’s separatist leaders agree. Over 95% of Srinagar, Jammu and Kashmir’s regional capital, adheres to Islam along with 67% of the whole territory. Polls conclude that 80% or more of the population demands independence and even if Kashmir's independence movement is the work of a minority, as India claims, 4GW is designed to amply that minority.

So while appointing interlocutors appears a good start, even if they are criticized by the APHC and Indian politicians alike, they lack any real value until India begins to moderate its position.

For now New Delhi hopes to outlast Kashmiri protesters, believing with some justification that four months of striking has exacted a material and mental toll. Yet these people have risked their lives for something far greater than themselves and the urge to resist doesn’t die easily. Without resolving the roots of Kashmir’s conflict, India's strategy has forced it to create a new demon to justify a hardening in Kashmir’s position.

Well aware that Pakistan has pressured Washington on Kashmir as a means of payment for the war in Afghanistan, New Delhi rightfully expects Obama to raise the dispute whether in public or private. But it’s unwilling to take any blame.

India tensely awaits Obama, a highly symbolic visit that could be overshadowed by a bloody valley beyond its borders, because it has failed to address Kashmir with sincerity, decisiveness, and consideration for the 21st century’s low tolerance for occupations. LeT “infiltrators” along the Line of Control (LoC) have spawned new threats of Pakistani interference. Indian authorities just arrested Masarat Alam, secretary-general of hardline leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani, as if this action will actually halt Kashmiri protests and stone throwers. And now, rather than a corresponding reaction to its own policy, New Delhi claims that China has asserted hegemony over Pakistan and urged Kashmiri leaders to hold out until Obama arrives.

Recent statements by External Affairs Minister S M Krishna insinuated that Kashmiri leaders rejected India’s proposal once they became aware of Pakistan and China’s support. Yet it’s doubtful that they needed to be told to dig in.

While their struggle suffers from unquestionable disadvantages in funding and lack of outside support, the APHC has a working grasp of 4GW, a style of warfare designed to counter these very weaknesses. Slowly but surely, Kashmir is going global. To what degree the APHC can force Obama’s intervention goes a long way in deciding their ultimate objective of breaking India’s political will in Jammu and Kashmir.

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