Thousands of miles away from the presidential campaign, the people of Kashmir were already rejoicing over what they expected was the imminent victory of Barack Obama.
Kashmiris see hope in Obama
SRINAGAR, INDIA // Thousands of miles away from what has been the scene of world's longest, most expensive and broadly publicised presidential campaign, the people of Kashmir, with few exceptions, are already rejoicing over what they expected was the imminent victory of Barack Obama. Separatists here found hope after Mr Obama said his administration would encourage India and Pakistan to solve the dispute over the Himalayan region so that Islamabad could better co-operate with the United States on Afghanistan. He told MSNBC in an interview last week: "We should? try to resolve the Kashmir crisis so that they [Pakistan] can stay focused not on India, but on the situation with those militants." He was of the view the United States "should foster a better understanding between the two nuclear-armed South Asian neighbours that have fought wars over the decades-old Kashmir question in the past but are now engaged in a peace process". Scenic Kashmir is divided between India and Pakistan, both of which claim it in its entirety. They have fought two of their three wars over it since independence from Britain in 1947. Thousands of people have been killed on the Indian side of the disputed region since 1989, when Muslim separatists revolted against New Delhi's rule. The rebellion was met with a tough Indian military campaign. "We've always said that the international community has to play a role in Kashmir. The US in particular can facilitate India and Pakistan in arriving on an amicable solution. It is good to know that Barack Obama has kept himself abreast of the issue," said Kashmir's chief Muslim cleric, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, who heads Hurriyat (Freedom) Conference, a separatist alliance. Mr Mirwaiz added: "Barack Obama's statement acknowledges he considers Kashmir as being a dispute which needs to be resolved amicably in the interest of peace in the region. Well, he can pressurise both India and Pakistan to solve the dispute on Kashmir when he makes it to the White House as the 44th president of his country." Syed Ali Shah Geelani, the hardline leader of a Hurriyat Conference faction, who is known for his anti-US rhetoric and outbursts in public, particularly on the US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, also welcomed Mr Obama's Kashmiri thesis - though with a rider. "What he has said is a welcome development, but I would like to remind him and everyone that while looking at Kashmir nobody should ignore its history." Mr Geelani said Kashmir was not a territorial dispute between India and Pakistan "but involves the future of its 13 million people". Mehbooba Mufti of the People's Democratic Party, which ruled the state with the Congress Party for nearly six years before the coalition collapsed this year after a row over the transfer of forest land to a Hindu shrine, said relations between India and Pakistan have improved with the revival of trade and the bus service over the Line of Control. "The peace process underway needs impetus and if US or any other country can extend help, they are welcome," he said. But one local political analyst, Zarief Ahmed, said: "Obama wants Kashmir to be resolved not because he is at pains to do something to see an end to the miseries its people have been going through but to safeguard his own country's interests in the region. Otherwise, he would not have sought to link the issue of Kashmir with the Pakistan's partnership in fighting the anti-American forces in Afghanistan. In other words he wants to help towards resolving Kashmir in lieu of Islamabad's co-operation on war against terror." Mr Obama's Kashmir thesis has caused some concern in India. C Raja Mohan, a veteran Indian journalist and political analyst, suggested New Delhi might have to act soon. "Given its vastly improved relations with the United States and Pakistan, India has no reason to press the panic buttons. Yet it should be quickly flagging its concerns with the foreign policy team of Senator Barack Obama should he be declared? president," Mr Mohan wrote in Indian Express. Mr Mohan, also a professor at the S Rajaratnam School of International Studies at Nanyang Technological University, said that despite relentless pressure from Pakistan's former president, Pervez Musharraf, Mr Bush refused to inject the United States into the Indo-Pakistani conflict. "By ending the traditional American meddling in Kashmir, Bush created the conditions for purposeful bilateral negotiations between New Delhi and Islamabad? India would not want Obama to disrupt this positive dynamic in the subcontinent," he said. Indian analysts say New Delhi's problem with the Obama thesis lies in the "simplistic trade-off it sets ups between Kashmir and Afghanistan". * The National