“Is it true Narendra Modi just boarded a flight to visit India?” Tweeted a critic of Indian Prime Minister’s globe-trotting jaunts. “Welcome home, Pradhan Mantriji! How long will you be staying this time?” was another tweet dipped in sarcasm. Modi has already been to 33 countries just this year alone. The Donald Trump of South Asia, the man out to make India great again, a nationalist and a sectarian, divisive at home but the man with the grand plan on the global stage, on June 7, 2016, Modi marked his fourth visit to the US since taking office in 2014.
The joint statement of Modi and President Barack Obama on the occasion, noteworthy for its lack of any real substance, in part says, “…the leaders reviewed the deepening strategic partnership between the United States and India that is rooted in shared values of freedom, democracy, universal human rights, tolerance and pluralism, equal opportunities for all citizens, and rule of law.”
So much opium for the masses. Public rhetoric has become a masquerade, a kind of camouflage to disguise less desirable truths. It is an interesting and perhaps appealing thought that Modi would be sitting around contemplating universal human rights and other eternal verities with major foreign leaders, but I’m sure we would be hard pressed to find such attention to any real agenda. It is classic speech-making in its calling forth of the highest virtues of mankind, and there are indeed certain appearances to be maintained, but when we see what is going on behind the scenes, it’s quite a different story.
In a speech to the United Nations in September 2015, President Obama said, “There are those who argue that the ideals enshrined in the UN charter are unachievable or out of date — a legacy of a postwar era not suited to our own. Effectively, they argue for a return to the rules that applied for most of human history and that pre-date this institution: the belief that power is a zero-sum game; that might makes right; that strong states must impose their will on weaker ones; that the rights of individuals don’t matter; and that in a time of rapid change, order must be imposed by force.”
Such a speech would have been quite appropriate on June 7, 2016. It is an interesting statement that reflects a number of countries in the world whose territories are either occupied or under direct attack, whose human rights are constantly violated, and where civil society is restricted by the ever-present terror of living with foreign troops. And none could be more conspicuous than Kashmir.
While I am convinced that President Obama is sincere in expressing such views, I am deeply dismayed that he would not utter a word even in private to Prime Minister Modi, his guest, about India’s imposition of such conditions on Kashmir. Are we in such a rush for profits from business ventures that we can just walk away from our basic values?
The US was once considered a shining example to the rest of the world of what democracy can mean, and yet now we see a complete breakdown of this grand vision at its very source that awakened generations of people to hope for real change. What is the significance of an alliance when universal principles, democratic values and human rights are completely ignored?
US alliance with India is somewhat convoluted when considering the broader picture. Of supreme importance is China, and US specifically takes into consideration China’s relationship with Russia. US neocons have long had both Russia and China in their sights. Both countries represent a threat to America’s economic and political dominance in the world. The alliance between the US and India, therefore, has to be viewed as tactical rather than strategic.
India’s attitude toward Pakistan has to be viewed in such a context as well. Obviously, still quite hostile on the surface, Prime Minister Modi’s remarks during his speech to the US Congress blamed Pakistan for much of the terrorism in the world. Since 1950, China has been a close ally of Pakistan, and has stood with Pakistan on Kashmir. Yet Prime Minister Modi’s warm embrace of Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif late last year also needs to be taken into account in trying to understand what the long-term strategy of India is, if it can be understood at all. Perhaps the gesture was genuine, and on the other hand, possibly nothing more than propaganda, nothing more than frosting on a wedding cake that was never intended to be eaten.
The future of Kashmir, of course, is deeply linked to the fate of India-Pakistan relationship. A closer friendship between India and Pakistan, with agreements for trade and cooperation, would give Kashmiris some hope. It would give us all a sense that dialogue would eventually drift toward the crucial issue of Kashmir. But deeper ties between India and the US certainly constrains the latter’s hand in addressing any concerns regarding India’s human rights violations in Kashmir, which makes for a difficult future without much hope for change in the near outlook. While India could rejoice for its deeper relations with the US, this was hardly a reason for optimism for Kashmir. Money and morality tend to be quite incompatible, wear different robes, and have different rituals.
When the joint statement reaffirmed the two leaders “support for a reformed UN Suecrity Council with India as a permanent member,” President Obama conveniently overlooked the fact that the United States was the principal sponsor of the resolution the Security Council adopted on April 21, 1948, which states that the future of Kashmir shall be decided by the people. How can India become a member of the Security Council when she has not fulfilled the commitment that she made to Kashmir at this Council?
There is no question that human rights in international affairs has almost no standing unless it can be usefully served as a weapon against those who refuse to go along with the game plan. Human rights are now apparently completely ignored among those who do go along, particularly when successful business opportunities are at hand.
Kashmiris have no other option but to reinforce their resolve in raising these issues along with the promise of self-determination at every forum where possible. The world must constantly be reminded of Dr Martin Luther King’s statement, “History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamour of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people.”
The writer is Secretary General, World Kashmir Awareness, and he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org