Home Views & Opinions Fighting the Kashmir cause in the United States and missing links

Fighting the Kashmir cause in the United States and missing links

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Kashmir is a beautiful region in the north of Pakistan. Due to some political mishaps in 1947, the area which was a princely state came under the control of India, Pakistan, and China. Since then, Kashmir has not only been a cause of tension in South Asia but also a host to massive humanitarian crises orchestrated by the Indian government. The Indian-held areas have never been in a total peace since 1947. An insurgency which started in 1988 ended the lives of 45,230 people to-date, according to South Asia Terrorism Portal. These figures include civilians, army personnel, and insurgents.
Pakistan had previously successfully raised the issue of Indian human rights violations on international fronts but currently there is no proper international advocacy for this issue. Recently, the Indian government abrogated Article 370 and demolished the special status for Indian-held Kashmir. Under the Indian constitution, Kashmir is now an Indian union territory which previously was a separate state with special privileges. This unexpected decision of scrapping Article 370 increased concerns for Pakistan in many ways. Currently, it is widely believed that Pakistan is not representing the case of human rights issues in the Indian-held Kashmir caused by Indian forces since 1988.
This account is based on my personal observations during my stay in the U.S. after attending seminars, talks, protests and demonstrations regarding the issue of Kashmir. I also interviewed several key people and collected some data as a covert participant observer. I did this because Kashmir is the center of my PhD research in the U.S. During my investigation, I found some missing links towards the issue of Kashmir, even though an established Ministry of Kashmir Affairs and Gilgit-Baltistan is working on the subject. My observations may help identify the problem both for the Pakistani government and the people of Kashmir. The Kashmir resolution is important because everyone in India, Pakistan, and the Kashmiri itself are paying the cost of those long-standing conflicts in many ways.
South Asia is the hub of conflicts caused by the Kashmir situation. India and China went to war with each other over their disputed borders, including borders in the Kashmir region. Same is the case for Pakistan and India. These tensions are not only jeopardizing the peace of three billion people in the region but also causing a great danger for the rest of the world. Pakistan and India have had minor and major skirmishes over Kashmir over the last seven decades, without achieving tangible results, while spending billions of dollars on defense-oriented capabilities. In 2018 alone, India spent $54 billion, on defense while Pakistan spent $12 billion. The actual cost of this concentrated spending includes funds diverted from other welfare projects and fighting poverty and hunger in both countries.
Pakistan is trying to include a third party for the resolution of dispute over Kashmir. But, as a foreign policy imperative, India always denied the role of any third party in this mediation. Pakistan had to convince international powers to force India stop atrocities and mass human rights violations. Pakistan can do it through an international campaign to include media, human rights groups, lobbies and the focus of international think tanks.
I have been in the United States for around two years, including time in New York and Washington D.C. to collect data for my research on peace building ding in South Asia. I have attended talks and seminars arranged by major thinktanks on many diverse issues in the United States and outside world. I have observed that there are many countries in the world that use think tanks and lobbies to spread their narrative in Washington D.C. and New York, and ultimately get their voices heard in the United Nations and the U.S. Congress.
There are more than half million Pakistanis living in the United States, while the number of Kashmir diaspora is not known yet. On September 27, 2019, Pakistani diaspora in the Northeastern United States arranged a mass demonstration outside the United Nations building during General Assembly speeches of Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, which meets once a year. The demonstration was arranged against scrapping the Article 370 and the weeks-long curfew imposed by the Indian forces there. I was in the convoy which started from Massachusetts and traveled to New York City. We had many buses from Massachusetts and Connecticut. When we reached to Manhattan, the street was full of protesters, a majority from Pakistan.
I talked to many Pakistanis and Kashmiris during that protest and felt their enthusiasm toward this issue. After the protest ended, the organizers decided to arrange a million-man march in D.C. later in 2019. The enthusiasm and the support for Kashmiri Muslims were timely, although I did not see any follow ups for the protest either in New York or in D.C.
Of the total Pakistanis living in the United States, the majority reside in New York City and Washington D.C. Due to lack of proper coordination, the concerned Pakistan ministries are unable to effectively use Pakistani and Kashmiri diaspora to exert pressure on the U.S. Congress and the U.N. The Migration Policy Institute, a renowned migration information source, has highlighted the political role of diaspora. It mentioned that Armenian-, Cuban-, Greek-, and Jewish-American associations are politically active diaspora communities which represent some of the strongest lobbies for their interests in Washington, D.C.
The Iraqi-American diasporic groups played a crucial role encouraging the U.S. to invade Iraq in 2003. The report did not mention Pakistani or Kashmiri diaspora. The Kashmir issue is becoming more severe, other than the fact that it is now officially a part of the Indian Union Territory. In such circumstances, the diaspora can play a stronger role as a lobby.
Nearly 1,900 think-tanks and 12,000 lobby groups are headquartered in the U.S. working on different regional, national, and international issues. Most of these are working as lobbies either for the United States or for other countries and organizations. Think tanks are policy research and advocacy institutions which play a fundamental role in shaping policies, putting forward evidences, and mobilizing expertise. They also challenge the status quo and introduce new ideas, spreading narratives and expanding the scope of debate in a society. Similarly, lobbying institutions – which consists of professional advocates, and lawyers – undertake paid activities for special interests to argue for specific legislation in a decision-making circle, especially in the U.S. Congress.
While attending talks and seminars in D.C. and N.Y., I neither saw any thank-tank that is strongly advocating the Kashmir issue, nor did I see any presence of the Kashmir narrative in the atmosphere there. There should be many purpose-made such institutions for this case. With its embassy in DC and a consulate in New York, Pakistan can effectively use these institutions as a strategically vital political asset for this cause.
It is worth mentioning that Pakistan has previously sought the assistance of many lobbying firms in Washington. On October 31, 2001, a month after the 9/11 incident, the Pakistan government under Pervez Musharraf, hired Stephen Payne from a lobbying firm called Team Eagle, for an annual contract of $180,000. This relationship’s main goal was to connect Pakistan embassy officials with the U.S. Congress in order to minimize the U.S. sanctions were imposed after the 1998 nuclear tests in Balochistan as well as help Pakistan out in debt and trade issues.
Again in 2008-2013, Pakistan signed a contract with Locke Lord Strategies for $75,000 per month with similar objectives. Mark Seigel represented Pakistan from this firm. Mark also worked for Pakistan from 1988-1990 and then from 1990-1996. Mark was also a classmate of late Benazir Bhutto. Recently, in July 2019, Pakistan signed a $1.1 million a year new contract with Holland and Knight for similar objectives. Former U.S. Congressman Tom Reynolds will be advising Pakistani officials in this regard.
To see what people in the White House and other policymakers think about this issue, I went to the Johns Hopkins University to interview Professor Dr. Daniel Markey. He was previously a senior fellow for India, Pakistan, and South Asia at the Council on Foreign Relations. He also held the South Asia portfolio on the Secretary’s Policy Planning Staff at the U.S. Department of State and has written extensively on Pakistan and India’s relations. While interviewing him, he mentioned that United States is not quite sure what Pakistan wants from it regarding Kashmir. He stated that the United States is more tilted toward Pakistan but is still not sure whether Pakistan will act upon U.S. advice and decision in case of its arbitration with India.
Pakistan’s foreign policy is not fully addressing the issue of Kashmir and the human right violations there. Dr. Markey also mentioned that the United States is now rational in its decision and will probably support India’s stance in this issue, because India is now an emerging economic power and is strategically important for United States with respect to China and Russia in the region.
Part of the reason why the Kashmir problem is not getting resolved is because of the biased history taught both in India and Pakistan. For research students, it is difficult to trust an author who wrote on this subject. Being a Pakistani and having Pashtun roots from the tribal belt of the former FATA, I understood Pakistan history different from what I have been taught in school and colleges in compulsory history books.
The causes and incidents that occurred in Kashmir by the tribal raiders were surprising for me when I read books written by Indian and Kashmiri authors. I met many tribal elders in my districts and Waziristan who participated in the raids in Kashmir, telling stories how they captured the current-day Azad Kashmir with limited resources, according to them. Conversely, the history written across the border dehumanized the raiders by telling the stories of their looting and disturbances during the raid. Wrong and selective history has been taught.
This selective history has not only heightened the enmity between people but also endangered the lives millions of Muslims in India. Similarly, Pakistan history books did not properly highlight all key resolutions that were passed in the U.N. Security Council since 1948, especially those in which Pakistan was told to act first. Even most Pakistani authors who wrote books and research papers either intentionally or unintentionally framed initial U.N. resolutions in their research work in different ways. Our books failed to tell us the truth. Telling the true history is important because it help us identify past mistakes and can guide us a better decision in the future.
Another cause attributed of the Kashmir problem is lack of proper consensus between the Kashmiri leaders themselves. There are many stakeholders, but the key are Kashmiri nationalists. This intra-Kashmiri division on political lines has also put both India and Pakistan in a state of confusion, with no proper consensus reached. Kashmiri Muslim leaders rejected the Two Nation Theory and sought India’s help against the tribal raiders. They wanted an independent Kashmir. For example, Sheikh Abdullah, father of Farooq Abdullah, in his statement to the Security Council in 1948 mentioned “I and my organization never believed in the formula that Muslims and Hindu form separate nations. We did not believe in the Two Nation Theory, not in the communalism or communalism itself. We believed that religion had no place in politics”. The role of those Muslim leaders had been very decisive, but their decision laid the foundation of this problem.
For the past few years, the Pakistan government has not actively pursued the Kashmir issue. The government did not take benefits of diaspora, lobbying firms, and think tanks in the U.S., either intentionally or unintentionally. The fact is there are missing links on the part of the government and the Kashmiri leadership in the pursuit of this case. There is a significant Pakistani diaspora which should be treated as a strategic asset and properly used. The government is unaware of the power of the thank-tanks and lobbies groups in the U.N. and the U.S. Congress. The presence of these missing links is making the problem more severe in nature. It gives the ultimate advantage to India. It is visible from the fact that the international community is silent on its mass human rights violations in Kashmir, other than the fact that the special status for Kashmir is has been abolished. The peace of South Asia is dependent on a peaceful Kashmir.