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GOWHAR GEELANI | 22 JANUARY, 2015

A Message to Obama from Jammu and Kashmir


SRINAGAR: On January 20, 2009 Barack Hussein Obama took oath as America’s first Black President. This was a moment in American politics which was described as momentous. After the African-American civil rights movement led by renowned pastor and human rights defender, Martin Luther King Junior, who delivered a historic “I Have a Dream” speech in March 1963, Barack Obama’s dramatic rise as President of the United States in 2009 was rightly hailed as yet another watershed moment in America’s political landscape.

During Obama’s much followed election campaign in 2008 I vividly recall how a group of students from Peshawar— capital of Pakistan's troubled Khyber Pakhtounkha Province, formerly known as NWFP (North West Frontier Province) — collected a meagre US $ 251 (from their pocket money) as fund raising for Barack Obama's election campaign, hoping that the then Democrat Senator would get elected as America's first Black President to bring about a constructive change in their conflict-torn region.

After all, Obama’s slogan was “CHANGE WE NEED”. He did win the elections. He did go on to become the President of the United States of America. But, did he remember to keep the promises he made remains an important question, though.

One of the female students in Peshawar while showering praise on Obama’s leadership had expressed optimism by saying that the new American President would live up to his promises of change.

“Instead of dropping bombs, carrying drone attacks and firing missiles in our tribal region I hope and believe that he (Obama) will bring peace to our region," she had hoped.

Another matter that innocent people— including children and women—continue to get killed in US drone attacks on Pakistan-Afghanistan border while innocent children and women keep falling prey to violence perpetrated by the Taliban in the name of religion.

Last month, December 2014, the Pakistani Taliban killed over 130 people, mostly school children, when they stormed an Army School in the city of Peshawar.

There has been no change so far as Pakistan’s Peshawar Province is concerned.

In late 2008, Obama visited the capital city of Germany, Berlin. He was given a heroic welcome by the Germans, the young as well as the oldies. Thousands gathered in Berlin to see a glimpse of hope called Obama.

Obama promised a whole lot of things. Later on, he also received a Nobel Peace Prize.

But did he deliver?

Among many things about the new world order and global peace, Obama also said something very interesting with regards to Kashmir dispute, too.

“We should probably try to facilitate a better understanding between Pakistan and India and try to resolve the Kashmir crisis…” President Obama, October 30, 2008.

Owing to India’s over-sensitivity with respect to Kashmir the US President Obama had decided to “revive the process of a possible US push in this direction, albeit discreetly.” It was made known that India’s permanent seat in the UN was somehow linked to Kashmir resolution at one point in time. What happened to Obama’s right intentions in relation to Kashmir pitch thereafter can be anybody’s guess.

The killing of Osama bin Laden, the founder head of Al-Qaeda, on Pakistani soil on May 2, 2011 further alienated the State of Pakistan from international scene and, therefore, it got discredited in relation to global war against terrorism.

Post Osama’s killing the Indian diplomats successfully articulated their viewpoint regarding the threat posed by global Jihadi network, and this also meant that America was easily hoodwinked by smart India.

For many years it was being argued that Kashmiris need to dissociate from radical principles and perhaps de-link their struggle for political aspirations from religion, radicalism and violence to garner international support for their movement.

Kashmiris exhibited generosity and gave a patient ear to both solicited as well as unsolicited suggestions.

They made a conscious and smooth transition from violent movement to non-violent one from 2008 onwards when tens of thousands of people, including teenagers and old men and women, enthusiastically participated in pro-Azadi (Independence) rallies and anti-India protest demonstrations only to experience the wounds inflicted on them by the state-sponsored violence.

Nearly 200 civilians, mostly boys in their teens, fell to state bullets during 2008, 2009 and 2010 street protests.

Kashmir’s new generation had built a strong case for themselves. From 1989 until 2008 they had the argument of power (guns). And post-2008 they had the power of their argument.

But no one seemed to care.

The Indian state crushed their violent as well as non-violent struggles with brute force only to highlight the fact that in modern day world rationality fails with same speed as irrationality succeeds and prospers.

International analysts insist that neither India nor Pakistan support Kashmir’s independence and that the international community would never consider Kashmir’s Independence as a viable option or solution to the Kashmir dispute they rhetorically refer to as intractable. They also agree that there are double standards so far as international community’s priorities, preferences and trade relations are concerned and that is perhaps why we see a different yardstick being applied vis-à-vis conflicts like Serbia-Kosova, Indonesia-East Timor, Sudan-South Sudan, Scotland-United Kingdom, Northern Ireland-United Kingdom, etc.

The world is not fair, they conclude.

In this candid analysis the dominant political aspirations of Kashmiris and their struggle and sacrifices since past so many decades are mostly forgotten and ignored in a rather shameful manner.

Meanwhile, the American President Barack Obama is visiting India on India’s 66th Republic Day on January 26 as the chief guest after Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi extended invitation to him to this effect. This was perceived as a major diplomatic victory for India.

Last time he visited India in 2010 along with his wife, Michelle Obama, and their two daughters, Malia and Sasha.

Kashmiris would want to give a gentle reminder to Barack Obama on his visit to India and remind him of the October 30, 2008 statement he had made on Kashmir!

Obama’s silence would be at the cost of potential radicalizing conscious and educated youth in the Kashmir valley, a place which finds all democratic spaces choked and where expressing dissent even in a democratic manner has long been declared illegal.

The ball is in Obama’s court.

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