Donald Trump is probably the most significant head of state in the global ruling league of electorally legitimized rightwing misogynist authoritarians who make no disguise of their common bonds of politics and identity, appealing often and explicitly to their ‘friendship’.
After Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro as chief guest for Republic Day in January 2020, Trump will now visit India next week. Commentators have been busy inferring too much from too little as they try to guess whether he will or won’t make an offer to mediate in Kashmir.
I’m afraid the blunt fact here is that it doesn’t really matter. It is true that Trump has in the past, on multiple occasions, said contradictory things about his willingness to mediate on Kashmir. On every occasion, interpretations were spun wildly as to the impact this had on Indian actions, Pakistani position, and all manner of triangular, quadrilateral, or other imagined security geometries of analysts who want to ‘solve’ Kashmir without beginning from the Kashmiris themselves.
It is important to remember that Trump’s inability to arouse any confidence or trust is reflective of Trump as an individual, and of the fraught relationship between him, important elements of his administration, and his country’s citizens.
This does not mean that the international community does not have a role in Kashmir. It certainly does, in multiple forms and forums, whether it is the peace activists in India or abroad, or the US Congress, or the UN.
In a long line of continued tragedy and conflict, heightened since August 2019, the Kashmiris have witnessed a suffocation and silencing which centres on the way in which their consent about what happens to them is being rendered comprehensively irrelevant. International pressure is vital to show India the mirror. In this regard, the US congressional hearings including the first one in October 2019 at which I spoke, were crucial, as was the resolution moved in November 2019.
Yes, the UN needs reform, nonetheless the 2018 reports produced by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) on the situation in Indian and Pakistan administered Kashmir were an important step forward.
Yes, the US has its own legacy of toxic exercise of power, but the actions of Congress representatives writing letters and holding hearings on Kashmir are vital, even if their helmsman Trump inspires no confidence or goodwill in any reasonable individual.
India claims to be a democracy and a rising power, yet its leadership especially since 2014, is marked by a regressive and vengeful governing party with a communal agenda that is using Kashmir to create a politics of panic and exceptions, pave the way for resource grabs under the euphemism of development in Kashmir, and to securitise and demonise dissent in India.
Moreover, the Kashmir conflict is, in the final instance, an everyday emergency for the common Kashmiri lives and livelihoods. In that basic humanitarian sense, it ought to be everyone’s problem.
Further, there is an obvious contradiction between the claim that there is no role for international mediation because it is a bilateral issue between India and Pakistan, and a right-wing majoritarian government in India that refuses to engage in bilateral dialogue with Pakistan, and instead acts to worsen the lives of all Kashmiris.
Finally, it has become manifestly obvious that colonial-style parleys that bilaterally barter territories over the heads of those whose lives are at stake, do not resolve anything. It is the Kashmiris themselves who must be the starting point of a credible and trustworthy process.
The international landscape is not unpeopled, there are shifting gaps between juridical and empirical sovereignty, and questions of politics are sought to be converted into existential questions by demagogues such as Narendra Modi and Donald Trump. These words may seem heavy, but I’d say that these facts fundamentally matter in relation to the Kashmir conflict.
No solution can be imposed from above upon populations
that have been resisting not just a military occupation but also representation by any leadership that compromises upon their struggle.
The democratic paradox in Kashmir means those leaders who represent the Kashmiri nationalist views cannot be representatives of the people in the electoral sphere. The Valley Kashmiris who are at the core of the resistance to Indian rule — facing decades of denial of rights, gravest human rights abuses, emergency legislation, and non-linear cycles of uprisings, humiliation and oppression — have little, if any, trust left in India.
The juridical claims of sovereignty in this context are desiccated and abstract. The only actual way to manifest the exercise of sovereignty over territory in Kashmir by India is by overwhelming militarisation and use of force against human bodies, which is backed up by continually extended regimes of legal impunity.
This has, predictably and over time, required manufacturing the consent of Indian population through carefully maintained blind spots in Indian public discourse on the matter of political motivations, massacres, sexual violence, torture, enforced disappearances, and numerous everyday humiliations.
With the constitutional coup enacted on August 5, 2019, when Kashmiris were stripped of autonomy, territorially bifurcated and downgraded in status, even these blind spots have become hard to sustain as the reality of Kashmir under Indian rule is becoming ever more apparent to many Indians.
While the Kashmir conflict is a profoundly political dispute, there is a well-entrenched array of vested interests that benefit from communalising it, and by portraying it as an existential Hindu-Muslim issue of ancient hatred.
A powerful way in which this is evident in contemporary India is through the rhetoric of justifying every egregious action in Kashmir with the response ‘What about Kashmiri Pandits?’. The right-wing demagogues make political capital out of what I call a sustained discourse of competing victimhoods. Over six months have passed since Kashmiris as a collective, were silenced, arrested arbitrarily, prevented from protest or assembly, and subjected to a humanitarian crisis.
Will Trump, protean and untrustworthy, making yet another casual or contradictory remark about mediating on Kashmir make a difference?
No, it certainly won’t to Kashmiris, and it will have little traction with Indians. However, the sustained work of well-meaning international institutions and individuals, in collaboration with Indians who believe in democracy and human rights, and most importantly from the ground up, all the Kashmiris, is what can and will make a difference.
(The author is a Kashmiri novelist, economist, and professor of politics and international relations at the University of Westminster in London. See @NitashaKaul and www.nitashakaul.com for links to her work)