Tag Archives: Modi

Toward Justice for Kashmir

18 Dec

Richard Falk

Among the self-determination struggles of our time, Kashmir is at risk of being forgotten by most of the world (except for Pakistan), while its people continue to endure the harsh crimes of India’s intensifying military occupation that has already lasted 75 years. In 2019, the Hindu nationalist government of the BJP, headed by the notorious autocrat, Narendra Modi, unilaterally and arbitrarily abrogated the special status arrangements for the governance of Kashmir that had been incorporated in Article 370 of the Indian Constitution, and although often violated in spirit and substance, at least gave the people of Kashmir some measure of protection.

1947 was a momentous year for South Asia as British colonial rule came to an end, followed by a partition of India that resulted in much bloodshed throughout the process of establishing the Muslim state of Pakistan alongside the secular Hindu majority state of India. At this time, Kashmir was one of 560 ‘princely states’ in India, governed by a Hindu Maharajah while having a population that was 77% Muslim. The partition agreement reached by India and Pakistan gave the peoples of these ‘states’ a partial right of self-determination in the form of a free choice as to whether to remain a part of India or join their destiny with that of Pakistan, and in either event retaining considerable independence by way of self-rule. It was widely assumed that these choices would favor India if their population was Hindu and to Pakistan if Muslim. In a confused and complicated set of circumstances that involved Kashmiris and others contesting the Maharaja’s leadership of Kashmir, India engaged in a variety of maneuvers including a large-scale military intervention to avoid the timely holding of the promised internationally supervised referendum, and by stages coercively treated Kashmir more and more as an integral part of India. This Indian betrayal of the partition settlement agreement gave rise to the first of several wars with Pakistan, and it resulted in a division of Kashmir in 1948 that was explicitly not an international boundary, but was described as a temporary  ‘line-of-control’ created to implement a ceasefire by separating the opposed armed forces. It has ever since given rise to acute tensions erupting in recurrent warfare between the two countries, and even 75 years later no internationally recognized boundary exists between divided Kashmir. The leadership of Pakistan has consistently supposed that Kashmir was a natural projection of itself, treating India’s behavior as occupying power as totally unacceptable ‘aggression,’ and illegitimate as have the majority of Kashmiris.

The essence of India’s betrayal of the partition arrangement was to deny the people of Kashmir the agreed opportunity to express their preference for accession to India or Pakistan, presumably correctly believing that it would lose out if a proper referendum were held. Back in 1947 the Indian secular, liberal leadership did itself make strong pledges to the effect that Kashmir would be allowed to determine its future affiliation in an internationally supervised referendum or plebiscite as soon as Kashmiri public order could be restored. The two governments even agreed to submit the issue to the UN, and the Security Council reaffirmed the right of Kashmir to the agreed process of self-determination, but India gradually took a series of steps designed to prevent this internationally supervised resolution of Kashmir’s future from ever happening. It appears that India originally sought control of Kashmir primarily for strategic and nationalist reasons associated especially with managing  Kashmir’s unstable borders with China and Pakistan, and in doing so converted Kashmir into a buffer state of India, giving it the security that supposedly accompanies strategic depth of a ‘Great Power.’ Unsurprisingly, Pakistan reacted belligerently to India’s failure to live up to its commitments, and the result for Kashmir has been a second level of partition between India-occupied-Kashmir and a smaller and less populated Pakistan-administered-Kashmir. In effect, India’s unilateralism with respect to Kashmir poisoned relations between these two countries, later to become possessors of nuclear weapons. Beyond this, India’s failure to live up to its commitments toward the princely state of Jammu and Kashmir produced a Kashmiri population that felt deprived of its fundamental rights. This underlying deprivation led to accompanying atrocities (including torture, forced disappearances, sexual violence, extrajudicial killing, excessive force, collective punishment, the panopoly of counterinsurgency crimes), which amount to Crimes Against Humanity. This pattern of abuse has increasingly resembled the deprivations associated with Israel’s occupation of Palestine and Morocco’s occupation Western Sahara.  

Part of the blame for this Kashmiri prolonged tragedy reflects the legacy of colonialism, which characteristically left behind its colonies as shattered and factionalized political realities, a distinctive consequence of British reliance on a divide and rule strategy in its execution of colonialist policies of control and exploitation. Such a strategy aggravated the internal relations of diverse ethnic, tribal, and religious communities. This Indian story is repeated in a variety of British decolonizing experiences of such diverse countries as Ireland, Cyprus, Malaysia, Rhodesia, and South Africa as well as its quasi-colonial mandate in Palestine, which Britain administered in this manner between the two world wars. In these cases, ethnic the demographics of diversity were manipulated by Britain to manage the overall subjugation of a colonized peoples. Divide and rule was rationalized as minimizing administrative challenges in the colonies, which was becoming increasingly troublesome in the face surging national independence movements in the 20th century.

Adding to the misery of the colonial aftermath, these cleavages were left behind as open wounds by Britain during the decolonization process, which can be best grasped as a crude display of irresponsibility toward the wellbeing of the previously dominated native populations. This unfortunate aftermath of British colonialism was dramatized by a series of unresolvable political conflicts that resulted in prolonged strife, producing severe suffering for the population that continues to occur many decades later.

These adverse results were only avoided, ironically enough, in the few ‘success’ stories of settler colonialism—Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the United States. These successes, ironically so described, were achieved through often ruthless reliance on genocidal tactics by settlers that overcame native resistance by eliminating or totally marginalized hostile indigenous populations. South Africa is a notable instance of the eventual failure of a settler colonial enterprise and Israel/Palestine remains the sole important instance of an ambiguous, ongoing struggle that has not reached closure, but is now at a seemingly climactic stage.   

Kashmir’s status, despite the denial of self-determination, had given the beleaguered country substantial autonomy rights, and despite many encroachments by India during the 75 years of occupation, chief of which was blocking the Kashmiri people from exercising their internationally endorsed right of self-determination. Nevertheless, what Modi did on August 5, 2019 definitely made matters worse for the Muslim majority living in Kashmir. It ended Kashmir’s special status in the Indian Constitution and placed the territory under harsh direct Indian rule, accompanied by various religious cleansing policies and practices expressive of Hindu expansionist ambitions.  Counterinsurgency pretexts obscured Modi’s efforts to impose Hindu supremacy on Kashmir by establlishing an undisguised framework of domination, discrimination, highlighted by altered residence and land ownership laws in a pattern favoring the Hindu settlement and minority control.

After taking journalistic notice of these events in a surprisingly non-judgmental fashion, the world, especially in the West, has fallen silent despite the continuation of crimes against the people of Kashmir that are reported by human rights defenders daily. Such crimes include branding of all forms of Kashmiri opposition to Indian behavior as ‘terrorism’ giving the incredibly large occupying Indian forces of 700,000 or more a green light to use excessive force without a formal advance assurance of non-accountability, as well as the mission of imposing repressive conditions by way of collective punishment on the entire population.

This outcome in Kashmir should not cause much perplexity among those familiar with how the world works. International reactions to human rights abuses rarely reflect their severity, but rather exhibit the play of geopolitics. Washington sheds many tears about alleged violations of human rights in Cuba or Venezuela while giving Egypt and Saudi Arabia a free pass.  More reflective of the international politics governing the inter-governmental and UN discourse on human rights is the insulation of Israel’s apartheid regime from any kind of punitive response at the international level while screaming for action in the same institutional settings against China’s far milder, but still regrettable, abuse of the rights of the Uyghur people in Xinjiang. India like Israel is too valuable a strategic partner of the West to alienate the Modi leadership by objecting to its behavior however extreme and criminally unlawful. It is unfortunate that the best human rights activists can hope for in such cases as Kashmir is silence.

India is a large country with a huge population and nuclear weapons. Under the best of circumstances, India is hard to challenge with regard to policies that seem almost normalized by the passage of time and fall within the domain of its territorial sovereignty, given the state-centric allocation of legal authority in the post-colonial world. Many important countries have ‘captive nations’ within their borders and are united in opposing internal self-determination claims. The harshness and cruelty of India’s policies has over time have given rise to an insurgent mood and movement on the part of Kashmiris who now seem themselves somewhat divided as between aspiring for accession to Palestine and independent statehood. Despite the long period since partition, such a choice, however improperly delayed for decades, should be made available to the people of Kashmir if only the UN was in a position to implement its long-ignored responsibility to organize and administer a referendum. It seems fanciful to take seriously the possibility a peaceful transition in Kashmir at present, but without it unsustainable arrangements will continue to provoke resistance. Nevertheless, it does not seem presently feasible given India’s recent ideological militancy as expressed by recent further encroachments on Kashmir’s normal development, to envision either a peaceful or just future for entrapped nation. Yet one never knows.

The situation in Kashmir is not as hopeless as it seems. The rights of the Kashmiris are as well established in law and morality as are the wrongs of India’s increasingly apartheid structure of domination, exploitation, and subjugation. The Kashmir struggle for justice enjoys the high ground when it comes to the legitimacy of its claims and struggles of a similar sort since 1945 have shown that political outcomes are more likely to reflect the nationalist and insurgent goals of legitimate struggle than the imperial goals of foreign encroachment. In effect, anti-imperial struggles should be thought of as Legitimacy Wars in which the resistance of a repressed people backed by global solidarity initiatives are in the end more decisive and effective than weaponry or battlefield superiority. It is worth reflecting upon the startling fact that the major anti-colonial wars since 1945 were won by the weaker side militarily. At this preliminary stage, a liberation strategy for Kashmir needs to concentrate on raising global awareness of the criminal features of India’s ongoing treatment of the Kashmiri people. To achieve such awareness, it might even be helpful to grasp how Gandhi mobilized international public opinion in support of India’s own struggle for independence; as well, studying Vietnam’s brilliant tactics in mobilizing global solidarity with its nationalist struggle and sacrifice that proved so helpful in neutraling the weight of the U.S. massive military intervention might yield insights useful in the Kashmiri struggle.

COVID-19: Present, Past, and Future

17 Mar

COVID-19: Present, Past, and Future

 

A few days ago when WHO officially declared the COVID-19 a ‘pandemic’ a Rubicon of consciousness and global governance was crossed. Hundreds of millions of individuals around the world are coping physically and mentally with what that word never before used in my lifetime means for themselves and those they care most about. The mental dimensions of self-isolation may turn out to be a big challenge almost as big as the disease itself. For once, government officials seem to be heeding the warning of health specialists rather than dutifully than scurrying about to address market signals of distress with public funds. At least this is the public face we see on our TV screens, although in Trump’s case even the appearances are mismanaged, considering the corporate smirk at his Rose Garden press conference when several CEOs pf prominent companies received better free PR that not even their most energetic publicist ever imagined attainable. There is a silver lining: if the American elections are actually held in November, we should see the fall of Trump, and as importantly, the end of Trumpism, that is, unless there is a quicker return to normalcy than now seems possible. Although one thing we might learn from how our lives changed overnight is to stop trying to outguess the future. Economists and future studies consultants may have their super-sophisticated models and graphs, but some of the most significant surges of history have a will of their own that often makes the most mathematically advanced computer models seem out of touch with transformative social forces that remain hidden until a shockingly unexpected eruption occurs.

 

If nothing else, COVID-19 reminds us of the perils and possible promise of radical uncertainty. As this mysterious deadly mutation of the Coronavirus suggests, our powers of anticipation are not much more impressive than those of our brothers and sisters in the jungle, and I am referring mainly not to tribal peoples looking up at the sky for signs of what is to come, but also of elephants and lions roaming freely on the savannas and grasslands of the world, yet suffering mass killings when wild fires rage out of control. What this uncertainty mandates above all else is preparedness and the acceptance as a matter of urgency of the Precautionary Principle as the long overdue Eleventh Commandment of our civilization. The Precautionary Principle should guide us to take steps to avoid known thresholds of irreversibility or curves of rising risks. The message is this.  Don’t wait until the predictable crisis is at hand, and don’t build on or near the known fault lines of the planet.

 

COVID-19 also suggests something else that is both instructive and worrisome. We as a species react to crises when their impact is immediate and lethal, and sometimes compensate for earlier complacency by over-reacting when widespread fear spirals out of control to produce panic, and in the process lurid memories of past failures are dredged from the depths of collective consciousness. The Spanish Flu Epidemic of 1918-19 is a current example of a past event I never heard discussed during my childhood, or throughout my adult life, but now is on the lips of many. While still a child this earlier flu pandemic was almost as recent then as the 9/11 attacks are now. We forget quickly past urgencies until replaced by new urgencies.

 

Another lesson here is that we cannot afford to treat climate change as we are treating this pandemic. Once the concreteness of climate change is revealed so that none can plausibly deny, or escape, or turn away from what happens at a distance, or be explained away as an anomaly of nature, or a danger that technology will address before the great collapse will occur, it will be probably too late to halt the downward trend.  For now, despite the fires, floods, and droughts the sky above remains as blue as ever in most places, the stock market showed no abiding concern about global warming, and the whole societal ecosystem lurches forward, producing the latest digital device and AI advance, without blinking. Even Brazil and Australia, scenes of catastrophic fires, seem to view these occurrences as one-time events that should not in the first instance interfere with neither sovereign rights nor with profit-making deforestation and cattle ranching, and in the second, with expanding coal production and exports. The short-termism of how we live our ordinary lives and how political leaders and corporate moguls are judged, makes it difficult to combine democracy and accommodating the global and the long-term, especially if its destructive impact can be imagined as always occurring to others far away or in the distant future. When we read of the ordeal of those living in prolonged subsistence confinement in Gaza or in the misery of refugee camps and border assaults, we may lament the news, and even sign petitions and make donations, but our nighttime sleep is rarely interrupted the way it would be if a next door neighbor or a loved one was so severely infected by the virus as to be carried off to a hospital, hopefully one with enough beds and ventilators, which in a matter of weeks might itself become a vain hope for many older infected people.

 

COVID-19 also further tears at the fabric of democratic governance. Israel reveals that it has elaborate secret files for the surveillance of all mobile phone users in the country, supposedly to help with counterterrorist efforts, but now to be used in identifying, locating, and confining those believed to be infected or having had recent contact with carriers of the disease. When Orwell imagined a tormenting Big Brother, it was read as an indictment of totalitarian systems of governance, specifically the Soviet Union, or at most a warning of a world in the making, an imagined dystopia that would hopefully never become actual. What the imagination could only worry about the technologists have now achieved. Are we safer, more secure and content when all of us have become suspects and our lives transparencies subject to the discretion of unaccountable bureaucrats?

 

As with the delusions of the militarist, excessive investments in weapons brings insecurity, not enhanced security. America is the best example in all of history. While our military arsenals grow, we shackle ourselves with more and more restrictions on our freedoms, which has been translated by our minder into electronic monitoring, long lines, and countless hidden cameras. Instead of improving lives by investing in social betterment through health, education, culture, parks and natural preserves, we spend public monies collecting meta-data and insist on a military capability that is dominant globally, able to strike catastrophic blows anywhere on the face of the earth from land, air, and sea platforms, and even from space. China, with all its imperfections, demonstrates to the world that the way to gain power, prestige, and influence is to manage clever fusions of state and market, taking advantage of soft power opportunities wherever they are found. By way of contrast, America is demonstrating that the way to lose power, prestige, and influence is to rely on geopolitical muscle through threat and coercive diplomacy, sanctions, and intervention. The result has been repeated frustration by striking its blows in dead end misadventures, yet learning nothing from each failure because the whole edifice is militarized, paralyzing the moral and political imagination, and the high-priced gurus offer tactical adjustments that misinterpret past failures, and thus prepare the way for new failures..

 

The democratic fabric of many countries was fraying badly long before COVID-19 added to the wear and tear. The end of the Cold War brought with it the expectation that the material and political benefits of democratic forms of governance would become so obvious to everyone as to produce a global tsunami of democratization, and to some extent it did during the 1990s. Bill Clinton spoke of ‘enlargement’ by which he meant that more capitalist democracies would emerge, and that this would be good for both economic prosperity and world peace as democracies do not make war on one another, especially when trade and investment are robust. Then came 9/11, the counterrevolutionary moves after the Arab Spring that caused severe civil strife and mass displacement, refugees and asylum seekers, ultra-nationalist reactions to neoliberalism, and now COVID-19 comes along. A mixture of alienation, scapegoating, and identity politics gave rise to the still bewildering phenomenon of societies freely electing, and even reelecting, autocratic demagogues that take away basic liberties without disguising their acts or intentions. A leader as regressive from the perspective of democratic values as Rodrigo Duterte enjoys an 80% approval rating in The Phillippines despite being responsible for as many as 20,000 extra-judicial executions, as well as numerous flagrant violations of human rights standards and disregard  of constitutional limitations on the exercise of state power. Modi remains popular in India despite his crude and cruel encroachment on the autonomy of Kashmir coupled with inflaming attitudes toward the large Muslim minority.

 

It is to be expected that there are no real democracies during wartime or in the midst of crises that give governments, regardless of ideology, a free hand to do whatever they proclaim as helpful in the name of national security, and now public health. During World War II the United States Government interned its West Coast Japanese minority without the slightest attempt to proceed in accord with the rule of law or even due process, and yet a majority of the U.S. Supreme Court had no trouble upholding this repressive undertaking as a reasonable security precaution given wartime apprehensions of disloyalty among Japanese citizens and residents. At least, the decision was controversial at the time, and there were dissenting opinions in the high court. Later on official apologies followed, especially 25 years after the end of the war when wartime fevers had dissipated. Now the U.S. government seeks to expel rather than intern, to keep the poor and unwanted out whether by erecting walls or imposing anti-Muslim bans and the like. Instead of global democratization, the recent international experience has been one of the previously unforeseen popularity of radical forms of de-democratization, proliferating ultra-nationalist outlooks, and the erosion of respect for the UN, international law, and global cooperation when such instruments of good order are more needed than ever. Also present in this anti-democratic ‘perfect storm’ is the penchant for undermining independent journalism and academic freedom, banishing free expression of ideas to private conversations among dissidents.

 

The cumulative effect of these political tendencies to weaken trust, and even draw the possibility of truth into question, making governance into a series of opportunistic fabrications. When scientifically backed opinions and unwelcome evidence can be dismissed as ‘hoaxes’ and ‘fake news,’ we no longer know what to believe, and most of all view skeptically what the government and its leaders tell us. Democracies depend for their legitimacy and effectiveness on trust as well as an atmosphere of normalcy, and when neither exists, there is confusion and chaos, and demagogues comes forth with self-confident and often malicious propaganda that is swallowed whole by large sectors of the population, however divorced from reality is the promise of rescue. One transcription of the message is this: making America ‘great’ again is being achieved at the price of inducing planetary collapse. This is the dark logic of our time that needs to be countered by a dialectic of resistance and transformation.

 

Interestingly, COVID has temporarily restored the stature and influence of the expert, at least for this current state of emergency. Can you imagine a future Trump press conference on climate change featuring the head of the Sierra Club, Environmental Defense Fund, and having Greta Thunberg share the platform with the experts. However absurd such a. musing, this  seems more or less how the American president seeks now  to reassure the public that despite some early stumbles, citizens can now have confidence that everything recommended by the best experts is being done to minimize the harm resulting from the global virus. Trump no longer appears in front of the TV cameras and assembled journalists as the preeminent know-everything leader. Instead he is flanked by health experts, corporate managers, and cabinet member to whom he regularly defers whenever a question by a journalist raises a technical issue. In this ironic turn, the supreme leader has become the novice, and hopefully will soon receive a pink slip of the kind he so gleefully issued while weekly performing on The Apprentice.

 

Of course, experts have their limits as well, and relying on the authority of the measurable is not a humane path to the future. Ethical sensitivity, especially empathy, is more important than following the evidence as interpreted by many experts, who are often hiding their own questionable policy agendas or career ambitions behind a flurry of numbers and graphs. So somewhere between banishing reality as fake news and worshipping the dapper expert as our supreme guide we need to find the courage, wisdom, and humility to reach difficult decisions that move humanity forward. Yet we are a long way from generating the political choices that include such constructive voices. So far what opposes the entrenched autocrat seems an improvement worth supporting, but It doesn’t even pretend to transform the system.

 

Without overdoing it, the real lessons to be learned are well depicted in a fine essay by Bruce Franklin, an admired friend and long one of the most perceptive and humane interpreters of the political scene, whose virtues have unfortunately automatically relegated him to the outer margins of public awareness. His piece, https://www.counterpunch.org/2020/03/13/what-is-covid-19-trying-to-teach-us/  stresses the idea that continuing to rely on state-centric world order and transactional geopolitics is to choose a doomsday destiny not only for country, but for the human species. If we cannot learn from the COVID-19 experience of our dependence on global cooperation, and a win/win approach to global problem-solving, the human species is far along on bio-ecological death march. As Franklin makes clear, in responding positively to a pandemic we help ourselves by helping other, and we hurt ourselves when we refuse to do so. His crucial point is that climate change, extreme poverty, biodiversity, global migration, nuclear disarmament, demilitarization are essentially the same: challenges of global scope that will not be resolved except by global win/win responses on a comparable scale.