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Volume 2, No. 9 - February 2003

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The Dangers of External Mediation - Misreading Local Code Words
Dr. Subodh Atal, Ph. D.

I had an interesting email exchange with the Hon. Robert Giuda, Deputy Majority Leader of the New Hampshire State Senate a few weeks ago. Mr. Giuda is on his own version of the Mission Impossible. He wants to solve the Kashmir issue. He believes that solving the Kashmir issue will bring peace to the Indian subcontinent, and security to the United States.

The exchange of emails was illuminating to both sides, perhaps more on mine. Mr. Giuda has been in touch with some people who have convinced him that the tensions in the Indian subcontinent will be resolved once and for all if "Kashmiri's wishes are granted". He talked about independence for Kashmir. I asked him what kind of independence would it be - independence for turning Kashmir into a new Pakistan or Afghanistan? Where Hindus and other minorities would be permanently exiled? Where the Sharia would become the law of the land and anyone questioning it would be hounded out? In Mr. Giuda's next email he changed his wording somewhat, and talked about "self-determination" and "plebiscite". He said that both sides needed to work together, and we should all forget about the past.

This is where I got my sense of enlightenment. I noticed Mr. Giuda was using a lot of code words - "independence", "self-determination", "plebiscite", that have developed new meanings through clever propaganda. Code words, you see, were a part of tried and tested strategy in the United States itself. In fact, the recent Trent Lott-Storm Thurmond episode revolved around code words. Senator Thurmond, when he ran for President decades ago, used the "state's rights" code word in his campaign to get Southern votes. "States rights" is a commendable concept, and the United States federal structure attests to this successful model, However, in the Deep South, "state's rights" took the meaning of this term into a different dimension, a dimension in which the civil and human rights of the African American population was non-existent. At first this was applied to slavery, and the Southern States fought a bloody civil war to protect those "state's rights". When slavery was abolished, the region salvaged some of those "state's rights" by denying voting and other civil rights to African Americans for nearly another century.

It was in the 1950s and 1960s that the last of the "state's rights" being exercised in the southern US were finally stripped away, and consitutional equality of the population was established. Even today, some in the region cling the "ideal" of state's rights, as ex-US Senate leader Trent Lott revealed in a moment of weakness at Senator Thurmond's retirement party. Most people in the United States understand the true meaning of this code word, but now if some southerners decided to take their campaign around the globe, and started recruiting outsiders to help regain their "state's rights", they would likely find quite a few supporters who know little of the local politics, and are eager to fight for universal ideals.

The situation in Jammu and Kashmir is analogous to that in the US Southern states. There is a lot of talk of "self-determination" and "Kashmiri rights". But what do those terms really imply? In Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, every single Hindu, Sikh and other minority was driven out at partition. In the Indian portion of Kashmir, the term implies codification of hegemony and monopoly of Kashmiri Muslims, who have been fed a steady diet of Islamic fundamentalism and jehad from across the border. At first they used their political power to drive Hindus and Sikhs out of the bureaucratic, economic and educational spheres. In 1989-1990, the "Kashmiri rights" were further exercised to drive out nearly 400,000 Kashmiri Hindus from Kashmir valley, which is one of the major seats of Hindu religion and philosophy. Since then, "Kashmiri rights" have been leveraged to turn the state into a laboratory for jehad and Talibanization, with the active support of  Pakistan.

The culmination of these state's rights would be "self-determination", which might very well result in the permanent ethnic cleansing of Hindus from Kashmir, and the formal transformation of Kashmir into the latest sphere of the Taliban and Al Qaeda, and its utilization to make further inroads into the rest of India. After all, Islamization of the entire Indian subcontinent is the ultimate goal of the jehadis who are today fighting in Kashmir.

There is little reason to believe that the clash of civilizations over Kashmir is fundamentally different from the US civil war, and that it could be resolved peacefully. Just as in 1860s United States, one side's "self-determination" means the end of human and civil rights for the other. The Indian model of secular democracy is the only hope for salvaging the true rights of all Kashmiris, unless we want to give the Taliban, Al Qaeda, and their Islamic supporters a brand new base of operations to conquer India, and then the rest of the world. And it would make sense for external actors not to fall in the "mediation" trap, when they have little understanding of the local issues, and even less an understanding of local code words.

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