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Umar Lateef Misgar

Trump's ties with India an ominous sign for Kashmiris

Activists from India's right-wing Hindu Sena party the day before Trump's inauguration [AFP]

Date of publication: 20 February, 2017

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Comment: Kashmiris have a history of showing solidarity with Palestinians, but, Umar Lateef Misgar asks, with Trump now in power, will their future look similarly under threat?

The US policy towards the conflict in Kashmir - a region fiercely contested between India and Pakistan since the decolonisation and subsequent partition of the Indian subcontinent almost seventy years ago - can be summed up as disaster-aversion, at best.

Multiple administrations in Washington have shown interest in the region only to prevent an escalation between the two nuclear-armed neighbors and avert a catastrophe in South Asia.

More than 70,000 civilians have been killed in Indian-held Kashmir since the start of armed insurgency against Indian rule nearly three decades ago, around 10,000 subject to enforced disappearance and thousands tortured by Indian army and paramilitary forces.

According to Human Rights Watch, Indian forces have consistently used rape as a weapon of war in Kashmir. Additionally, 6,000 mass and unmarked graves have been discovered by various human rights groups. In just the last six months of 2016, nearly one hundred civilian protestors were killed and thousands injured in Indian forces' crack-down after the region saw widespread protests against the killing of a popular rebel leader.

Washington, however, has seldom displayed any proactive interest in helping to find a sustainable solution to this deadly conflict.

Hopes that Obama administration would finally break the cycle of US indifference over Kashmir were raised when the former president exhibited willingness to mediate a resolution. "Working with Pakistan and India to try to resolve Kashmir crisis in a serious way… is a critical task," Obama said in a 2008 interview with the Time Magazine.

However he later backtracked under intense Indian lobbying and his State Department subsequently dropped Kashmir from the portfolio of Richard Holbrooke, the US envoy to South Asia.

"It is hard to entirely gauge Donald Trump's stand on Kashmir so early into his term," Umair Gul, a student of Peace and Conflict Studies, told The New Arab. "However, at best, his Kashmir policy would be a continuation of Obama and his predecessors, who have deemed it a bilateral issue between Islamabad and New Delhi."

Trump's personal business interests in India would certainly hold sway over his Kashmir policy

This flawed US approach however doesn't take into account the aspirations of common Kashmiris, who have the highest stakes in any potential future resolution.

The possibility that the Trump administration would move closer to the Indian position on Kashmir - maintaining a full claim the disputed region - remains high. 

Due to the fact that a substantial Indian expatriate community in the US - many of them under the banner of Republican Hindu Coalition - rallied for Trump, Washington may break with convention and root for India when it comes to Kashmir, according to Hilal Mir, the editor of Kashmir Reader, a popular English daily.

This, again, is in sharp contrast to the popular sentiment in Indian-held Kashmir where the majority of the population sees India as an occupying power.  

Trump's personal business interests in India, which are said to be largest among all his foreign ventures, as well as the general significance of Indian market for global economy, would certainly hold sway over his Kashmir policy.

The region has a long history of protesting in solidarity with what are seen as pan-Islamic causes, including that of the Palestinian people

While the current administration's disdain for Obama's pivot to Asia and jobs, outsourcing to India, could have been a potential stumbling block in India-US relations, US' hostile approach to China and regular confrontations in the contentious waters of South-China Sea will likely lead Washington to court New Delhi - Beijing’s regional rival - in the near future.

The overtly Islamophobic rhetoric of the new president and his cabinet is also a matter of deep resentment in the Muslim-majority region. "The election of Trump, a borderline neo-fascist and an Islamophobe to one of the most powerful positions in the world is surely disconcerting," says Soleha Sabroo, an International Relations student at Kashmir's Islamic University.

"His pathological affinity to India's Modi could prove to be detrimental for the popular resistance to Indian rule in Kashmir."

Ripples of Trump's recent executive order, banning immigrants and refugees from seven Muslim-majority countries, were also felt in Indian-held Kashmir when two Kashmiri-Muslim athletes were denied visas by the US embassy in New Delhi citing "current US policy" as the reason.          

Trump's proposal to shift the US embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem - widely seen as a move that would pave the way for Israel to entirely annex the holy city - is set to mobilise demonstrations across Kashmir.

The region has a long history of protesting in solidarity with what are seen as pan-Islamic causes, including that of the Palestinian people. In fact, while dozens of countries saw people rallying against the 2014 Israeli assault on Gaza, in Kashmir, a protestor was shot dead by the Indian forces.

At best, Washington's policy towards Kashmir will be dictated by strategic and economic concerns rather than mitigating the suffering of Kashmiri people

Also, whether or not India's desperate attempts at boxing-in Kashmir's popular resentment against Indian rule within the flawed "War on Terror" framework finds any takers in Trump administration, remains to be seen. "Given the new US administration's derision towards all things Islamic and New Delhi's insistence on reducing the conflict in Kashmir to the problem of so called Islamic radicalism, it is possible that India might get its way after all," Aamir Bhat, a student of Journalism told The New Arab.

While the international community, including the US, is entirely focused on the wars plaguing Middle East - particularly the war in Syria - and fighting IS, it is highly unlikely that the conflict in Kashmir will find a place on global agenda very soon.

At best, Washington's policy towards Kashmir will be dictated by strategic and economic concerns rather than mitigating the suffering of Kashmiri people.

However, finding a solution in line with the aspirations of Kashmiris, to one of the longest-running modern conflicts around, could restore the much-needed credibility not only to the US' mediation skills, but also to the international conflict-resolution mechanisms.

Umar Lateef Misgar is a graduate student of International Relations at the Islamic University of Kashmir. He regularly writes for The New Arab, openDemocracy, Counterpunch and London School of Economics Human Rights Centre.

Follow him on Twitter: @Kaashur

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.  

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