December 16, 2010

Mirwaiz: Holbrooke Behind Kashmir’s Curtain

As eulogies poured in for Richard Holbrooke, praising his bull-headed mentality for getting peace agreements done, Kashmir began to stand out more and more. Holbooke’s influence in Afghanistan and Pakistan will go down as his final mission, but not without a helping of irony. One of the world’s toughest diplomats couldn’t bring himself to breach the disputed Kashmir territories, let alone utter the word.

He even ran with the joke between Pakistani reporters, laughing as he kept his lips sealed.

Of course Holbrooke wasn’t completely inactive, and there’s no doubting Washington’s movement behind Kashmir’s curtain. Now Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, chairman of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC), has pulled the curtain back, saying, “Holbrooke was never officially working for Kashmir, but the fact remains that he was in touch with the leaderships in Pakistan, India and to some extent with the Kashmiri leadership.”

Farooq hoped that Holbrooke’s successor will pursue the same course: “It’s time the US appointed an envoy to take the Kashmir process forward. Peace in Afghanistan is important, but it cannot be achieved in a real sense unless and until other issues in the region are addressed.”

Unfortunately this isn’t going to happen. Holbrooke replacement, Frank Ruggiero, isn’t nearly as strong and may be relegated to lesser duties. He won’t be touching Kashmir.

Farooq’s statements aren’t surprising so much as frustrating. Washington’s problem isn’t a complete absence of diplomacy, but a lack of public diplomacy. Kashmir is a sensitive issue that requires careful handling, partially justifying Washington’s timidity. New Delhi rebuked the possibility of a Kashmir envoy within seconds of getting wind, and further pushed back against Holbrooke after being nominated by President Barack Obama. It was apparent from the start that the White House couldn’t, and thus wouldn’t, go near Kashmir.

However, the total abandonment of Muslims-Kashmiris has erred too far on the side of India’s caution and not enough on Pakistan’s. Because of Islamabad’s relationship with Kashmiri separatists and Afghan insurgents, India has leveraged Washington to ignore Islamabad's warnings in Jammu and Kashmir. But India has committed a staggering list of atrocities against Muslim-Kashmiris, and the situation has backtracked since Obama came to office.

This is no bilateral dispute between India and Pakistan, and America, as an ally of both, must assume a lead role in conflict resolution. Not from behind the curtain, where no one can see and nothing gets done.

Farooq’s thoughts on Holbrooke will fall on deaf ears after the latest WikiLeaks revealed Indian torture from 2002-2004. No surprises here either (these methods are ongoing under the Armed Forces Special Powers Act), but this information is known and ignored by U.S. officials. New Delhi has refused comment: "The spokesperson of the government of India said that this is an internal assessment of American diplomats, and for them isn't something that would warrant a response to."

Srinagar is already under curfew in preparation for Muharram and WikiLeaks is expected to provide a new spark. Too much stalling in Kashmir. More on Muslim-Kashmiris’ struggle later.

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