Hope for Kashmir: Reminding President Obama of his campaign commitment to help resolve the conflict in Kashmir.
This petition by the Kashmiri-American community and friends is a follow-up to the petition submitted on January 17th, 2009, whose 500-plus signatories applauded President Obama's campaign commitment to resolve the Kashmir crisis during his Administration, and offered suggestions to de-escalate tension in the region.
The ongoing militarization of Kashmir has resulted in 70,000 deaths, 8000 disappearances, and 250,000 displaced persons. Since 1990, Kashmiri economy has sustained losses of more than the equivalent of 40.4 billion U.S. dollars due to the untenable conditions of life that Kashmiris face every day.
This petition calls for the United States to exert its influence on India and Pakistan to create a positive atmosphere in Kashmir that will bring about a context for peace and prosperity in South Asia. It maintains that third-party mediation between India and Pakistan is essential to resolve the Kashmir dispute, and key to this mediation is engagement with the representatives of all people of Kashmir as full and equal partners in the determination of the future of Kashmir.
The petition suggests that:
(a) Kashmir be a fire-arm free zone;
(b) Indian and Pakistan's armed forces be pulled back to the 1947 international borders;
(c) Repressive laws in Kashmir, such as the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, be removed; and
(d) All international borders in Kashmir be opened
to promote commerce, unite families and bring prospects for peace and prosperity to the 13 million people of the four regions of Kashmir and the adjacent parts of South Asia.
I am writing to respectfully follow up on the petition submitted to you on January 17th, 2009 by the Kashmiri-American community and allies. The petition, with 500-plus signatures, applauds your statements on the resolution of the Kashmir crisis as a major objective of your Administration and offers suggestions to de-escalate tensions in the region. The suggestions include: (a) Third-party mediation between India and Pakistan as essential to resolving the Kashmir dispute; and (b) that key to this mediation is engagement with representatives of all the people of Kashmir as full and equal partners in negotiating a settlement. The petition notes that Kashmir, once known as paradise on earth, is now one of the most militarized places in the world and a prison for its inhabitants.
Mr. President, Kashmir may be a future Afghanistan in the making. My belief is that the denial of basic human rights-- including the right of self-determination in Kashmir-- feeds the scourge of terrorism. In turn, resolution of the Kashmir dispute will go a long way towards containing armed conflict in South Asia. The Kashmir dispute is a sixty-year old unresolved international issue that has faced the United Nations and is a major cause of military confrontation between India and Pakistan. The dispute now has the potential to feed terrorism because every Kashmiri protester killed by the Indian military becomes a rally cry for recruiting terrorists in the neighboring regions. Thus it is necessary for the United States to exert its influence towards a just and durable settlement of the Kashmir conflict.
Mr. President, the people of Kashmir desire an end to the region’s current gun culture; they want their homeland demilitarized. The Kashmiri people also want to live in peace with all of their neighbors. The Kashmir dispute is not a border conflict or a debate over secular or theocratic government. It is about the emancipation struggle of Kashmiris that started in the 1930s and ran parallel to the freedom struggle against colonialism on the Indian subcontinent. The struggle in Kashmir then was for liberation from an autocratic surrogate regime of the British Empire. Following the Partition of British India in 1947, when the Kashmir issue was first debated at the United Nations, the struggle has been about the fundamental human right of the Kashmiri people to decide their own future.
To resolve the Kashmir dispute, India and Pakistan must seek creative solutions. The focus should be to create a positive atmosphere in Kashmir that will bring about a context for peace and prosperity in the whole South Asia region. Towards that end the following four suggestions for American policy on Kashmir are respectfully submitted for consideration:
Free and Fair Representation
There must be an end to the practice of disqualification of candidates for public office who decline to pledge allegiance to and/or accession to either India or Pakistan. The governments of India and Pakistan, in the negotiation for steps forward, must involve genuine Kashmiri leadership, including those who disagree with both India and Pakistan. It is widely recognized that the election of representatives is a core element of a functioning democracy. But free and fair elections do not happen in Kashmir; as a result the present governance in Kashmir does not represent the population and does not adequately represent Kashmiris' right to decide their future. Candidates representing the spectrum of political perspectives on the future of Kashmir – including those advocating for Kashmiri independence – must be allowed to have a voice. Full political freedom throughout Kashmir must be honored, including freedom of assembly, speech, press, and the freedom to dissent. The people of Kashmir and the local leadership must have the opportunity to freely express views. This requires that Kashmir be open to the international community, with open access to foreign organizations for independent monitoring human rights conditions and elections.
Rule of Law and Civilian Governance
The armed forces of India and Pakistan need to be pulled back to the 1947 international borders. In addition, draconian laws, such as the Public Safety Act, used to arrest and jail citizens without due process, cause pervasive oppression and violence in Kashmir and must be repealed. As noted earlier, the people of Kashmir wish to end the gun-culture in Kashmir. They want to remove all weapons of war from Kashmir. Currently, there is one Indian army soldier for every ten Kashmiri civilians. The presence of these 660,000-plus armed men in Kashmir is an enormous drain on the resources of both India and Pakistan and is destroying the physical environment and civil society in Kashmir. Moreover, it is damaging the psyche of generations of Kashmiris. For all of these reasons, armed forces in Kashmir must be scaled back.
As proven by 60 years of bilateral talks, India and Pakistan are incapable of reaching an agreement on Kashmir on their own. Thus, third-party mediation is crucial to resolving the dispute, and American leadership on this front is a necessary element for success.
Uniting Communities and Human Rights
The Obama administration should make future strategic collaborations with India and Pakistan contingent on their willingness to end the dispute in Kashmir. Human rights must be an integral part of the dispute resolution and must guide U.S. policy in the region.
President Obama, Kashmir lies on the historic Silk Trade Route, connecting Central Asia and the Indian-subcontinent through many of its mountain passes. Before the last World War, when the trade routes where closed, Kashmir’s commerce was with Central Asia through Ladakh and Gilgit. Another route, the Jhelum Valley Road, the only all-weather road to and from the Kashmir Valley connecting Kashmir with the Punjab region, remains closed since 1947. Only one fair-weather route through the Banihall Pass is now open. Kashmir’s Line of Control must be made permeable and all international borders must be open. Opening all borders in Kashmir will promote commerce, unite families and bring prospects for peace and prosperity to the 13 million people of the four regions of Kashmir and the adjacent parts of India and Pakistan.
President Obama, I am enthusiastic and full of hope that your administration will help the people of Kashmir achieve their right of self-determination, thereby elevating the prestige of the United States in the world community as leader promoting values of human rights, justice and rule of law and a government of the people, by the people, for the people.
Thank you for your consideration
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