Saturday, August 14, 2010

India’s commercial interests vs the Kashmir dispute

For the first time since taking office, British Prime Minister David Cameron, British Prime Minister David Cameron traveled to India in early July, where he was warmly welcomed by his Indian counterpart to cement their friendship, enhance cultural cooperation and boost trade.

India is a growing world power and economists have predicted that by 2020 India will be among the world’s largest economies. It has also started playing a more significant role in world politics and is one of the countries seeking a permanent seat on the UN Security Council.

Cameron’s staunch support for one of the world’s fastest-growing economies was evident and he did not hesitate to openly accuse India’s arch-rival Pakistan for exporting terrorism to its neighboring countries. This outraged the Pakistani people and government, which consequently led to the Pakistan intelligence chief canceling a planned trip to London.

Analyzing the root cause of antagonism between India and Pakistan and subsequently that of terrorism in the region, former British foreign secretary David Miliband may have been more objective than the prime minister. During his visit to India in January 2009, Miliband said that a resolution of the dispute over Kashmir would help deny extremists in the region one of their main calls to arm, and allow Pakistani authorities to focus more effectively on tackling the threat on their western borders. His comments angered the Indian authorities that are not interested in foreign intervention, including that of the UN, in the Kashmir dispute.

The origins of the Kashmir dispute date back to the partition of the British Raj in 1947. Based on the partition plan and the “Two Nation Theory”, the princely state of Jammu and Kashmir with a predominately Muslim population was widely expected to accede to Pakistan.

The Hindu Maharaja of Kashmir, however, signed a controversial treaty of accession with India which led to war in October 1947. The two countries fought three more wars over Kashmir in 1965, 1971 and the 1999 Kargil conflict. China also lays claims on a part of Kashmir and went to war with India over the disputed region in 1962.
More than 60 years later, the conflict between the two nuclear giants over Kashmir has led to serious repercussions and complex security conditions in South Asia.

Pakistan, on the other hand, has been a state directly affected since the “war on terror” first began in October 2001.

The US and its NATO allies have not succeeded in winning over the hearts and minds of the Afghan people. The growing instability in Afghanistan has caused a spillover effect into Pakistan where the Pakistani Taliban has been waging a war against its own people. One hundred and fifty thousand Pakistani troops have now been stationed along the Afghan border.

Over the past eight years, Pakistan has suffered severe economic losses, high inflation, a large number of civilian casualties and internally displaced people, and has lost more troops than the US and NATO forces combined in Afghanistan. Pakistan says, moreover, that their sacrifices have not been recognized by the world at large and that it continues to receive pressure from the international community to do more.

Going back to the Kashmir dispute, David Cameron is not the only one who underestimates the magnitude of this dispute and who may believe that India’s commercial interests are of more significance than a resolution of Kashmir.

The security conditions in Kashmir have recently begun to spiral out of control after a 17-year-old student was killed by Indian security forces earlier in June. Dozens more have been killed by Indian forces over the past two months. The media has given wide coverage to the ongoing human rights violations, but the Indian government has not done enough to safeguard the dignity of life and property of the Kashmiris.

Angry protesters have continued to demonstrate and even women have taken to the streets. In protest they have chanted anti-Indian and pro-freedom slogans to express their anger and frustrations against Indian occupation and over the killings of young innocent Kashmiris. In a recent statement, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon expressed “concern over the prevailing security situation in Indian Kashmir”.

In the world’s largest democracy resides the world’s heaviest militarized region, and 700,000 Indian security forces are keeping a population of seven million Kashmiris under tight control. On the pretext of fighting militancy in Kashmir, tens of thousands of innocent Kashmiris have been killed by the Indian army since 1989.

Arbitrary arrests, torture and disappearances have deeply frustrated the Kashmiri people who are living under the shadow of guns. International media and organizations like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have limited access to the disputed region of Jammu and Kashmir. If the world truly wishes to see stability returning to the South Asian subcontinent, a solution to Kashmir is essential to complicate the security conditions even further and to deny religious extremist gaining further ground in South Asia and beyond.

World powers such as the US will have to decide whether to protect human rights or whether they give priority to their commercial interests, the latter of which may not be able to ensure a safe and just world.

The growing instability in Afghanistan has caused a spillover effect into Pakistan.

By Laura Schuurmans Jakarta who has written several academic papers on South Asia.

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