So Russia has finally asserted its political clout on acceding the territory of Crimea from Ukraine. This is after the Russians battled for years against Georgia for the control of South Ossetia. South Ossetia had declared its independence from Georgia in 1991, which was recognised by Mother Russia. Though the European Union, NATO and most UN member countries did not recognise as an independent state.
The de-facto republic of South Ossetia held a second referendum in 2006, which had 99% South Ossetian voters supporting Independence. Though it remains disputed, with only Russia recognising it after the South Ossetia War in 2008. With two other countries which are Venezuela and Nicaragua. Now the South Ossetian ‘President’ calls for re-unification with Russia after the Crimean accession to Russia.
The ‘referendum’ in Crimea has been called a farce by most western nations who see this as Russian interference into Ukraine. This too after Russian Troops had occupied Crimean before the vote. This is after the popular revolution in Ukraine dismantled Pro Russian– Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych. Putting the Kremlin on docks, losing another important ally in Kiev.
Cold War Allies
On Thursday, when asked for India’s official assessment of the events in Ukraine, National Security Adviser Shivshankar Menon responded:
“We hope that whatever internal issues there are within Ukraine are settled peacefully, and the broader issues of reconciling various interests involved, and there are legitimate Russian and other interests involved…. We hope those are discussed, negotiated and that there is a satisfactory resolution to them.”
Historically, Russia has always supported the Indian policy on Kashmir. India has always been a corner-stone in Russian Foreign Policy. First, India and Russia have long-standing ties and Moscow is Delhi’s top arms provider. Moreover, Russia and the former Soviet Union has been nearly alone in the international community in continue to back India during crucial moments such as following its 1974 and 1998 nuclear tests.
With Indian President Pratibha Patil in 2009 while visiting Russia, famously quoting “I can assure you that Russia also lives in our souls as a Homeland.”
Russia has supported the Indian draft at the UN on Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism [CCIT]. The two sides signed a MoU on co-operation in combating terrorism in December 2002. India sees terrorism, in the context of its military presence in Kashmir battling a movement to end Indian rule and Russia has seen it in Chechnya, and both the countries are supportive of each other on the issue of terrorism.
The Soviet Union Premier, Nikolai Bulganin and Nikita Khurshchev visited Kashmir in 1955. With the Indian-backed-government in Kashmir welcoming the two Soviet statesmen with mega-cultural shows. and river processions. The visit confirmed with the Soviet Union publicly backing itself as a supporter of Indian stand on Kashmir. In 1962 a Russian veto had defeated a Security Council resolution on the plebiscite issue. Recently, Russia ruled out intervening in the Kashmir dispute.
Bald Eagle Hovering
The United State interest in Kashmir developed only after India took Kashmir to the United Nations. Moreover, from that day British and American diplomats started working in tandem on Kashmir. “Washington, the US mission to the United Nations and the American Embassy in New Delhi and Karachi became deeply involved in Kashmir issue.” Warren W. Austin, American diplomat encouraged Sheikh Abdullah during his visit to the Security Council as a part of Indian delegation, the idea of an Independent Kashmir. Later on Sheikh Abdullah held meetings with the US diplomat Loy Henderson over the same idea. (Raza, Maroof, 1996 Wars and No Peace Over Kashmir – Page 38)
These developments led to the dismissal and imprisonment of the man who gave Kashmir to India on a platter, Sheikh Abdullah.
In 1996, when priorities of Washington in the region had changed and tilted towards India, USA Ambassador in India, Frank Wisner by asking Hurriyat Conference to participate in the elections played New Delhi’s card in the state. His move proved counterproductive and resulted people overwhelmingly boycotting these elections.
The United States has had differing positions on the dispute over the years, and currently holds that India and Pakistan are responsible for solving it. The relationships between the United States and India and Pakistan appear to be framed more by current strategic importance and less by Cold War perceptions.
As such, the United States has attempted to strike a balanced, neutral position on the Kashmir where India and Pakistan are ultimately responsible for ending the tension.
Referendum – A National Dream
Referendum remains a national dream for Kashmiris. They have been waiting for one which has been promised by India and Pakistan, and guaranteed by the United Nations in 1949. Though it has never taken place. Both India and Pakistan have had elections in their occupied territories of Kashmir.
Though Pakistan has actively supported the referendum of Kashmir, and has given an autonomous status for ‘Azad’ Kashmir with a nomenclature Prime Minister and President. It remains remote-controlled by the Ministry of Kashmir Affairs in Pakistan.
While as in India, the autonomous status has been completely eroded, leaving Kashmir on the fringes of heavily marginalised Article 370.
The Indian state claims Kashmir as an ‘integral part of India’, while maintaining a massive military presence. The presence of Indian troops disproportionate to the population, with a ratio of one Indian soldier to every ten civilians. While the calls for demilitarisation has been shot down by claiming the presence of terrorists in Kashmir. The number of such ‘terrorists’ according to Indian Army, varies from 80-250. So such claims of ‘ integral part of India’ are disputed and far from reality of a free state.
The presence of mass-graves, incidents of massacres, gang-rapes and enforced disappearances in Kashmir show the mirror of how India aims to control Kashmir.
The India backed government has been using black laws such as Public Safety Act (which means no trial for two years) to crush any mode of resistance. The Indian backed government in Kashmir has been crushing dissent, house-arresting freedom leaders and cracking down on protesters. Unheard in any democracy, Kashmiris can also be charged under sedition for cheering a cricket team other than India.
It is only natural that Kashmiris being excited about referendums around the world.
The referendum headlines on newspapers since Quebec’s referendum or Scotland’s vote for referendum (which is due this year) or the latest one of Venice vote to breakup from Italy. The referendums around the world has always raised eyebrows in Kashmir. With questions to the International community, as to why referendum is not held in Kashmir, since it has been guaranteed by United Nations.
India continues to contain the Kashmiri voice for the right to self determination. It continues to occupy and militarise Kashmir even further. Is India, the world’s biggest democracy afraid that it’s integral part will vote to be independent, if it holds a referendum?
The referendum in Kashmir needs International community to press upon India, acknowledging the promise it made to people of Kashmir and end the dispute. With Indian diplomat’s open support of Russian intervention in Crimea, will United States step in.
Vladimir Putin in his speech after signing the treaty to accede Crimea into Russia thanked India for its position on Crimea. Later asking the United States “why it supports freedom but not in Crimea.”
The American pull-out in Afghanistan and the developments in Crimea have surely shaken the geo-political arena. It remains to be seen, if Kashmir features in them or they would have to wait further more. In international polity, there are no permanent friends but only permanent interests. Nothing can be ruled out, not yet at least.