By Mike Burrows, staff editor President Obama’s announcement last week of US support for a permanent Indian seat on the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) has reignited some debate over the future of the UNSC, both in terms of its membership and its role in international affairs. A more representative UNSC is a good idea, and probably inevitable as rising powers like India assert themselves on the world stage. But the issue of Kashmir requires resolution before India should be allowed into an elite club designed to promote peace, security, and other such friendly notions.
Kashmir hasn’t been a topic of frequent discussion in the American press, but a recent New York Times Op-Ed describes increased levels of unrest in the contested province. The situation is further complicated by an absence of obvious alternatives for peace, and unclear motivations of the numerous separatist groups themselves.
If I were Kashmir, I wouldn’t want to be involved with either of the two bullies trying to claim me. With a lower poverty level than either, Kashmir may be better off on its own. Kashmir’s economy is less than stellar right now – not surprising for what is basically a war zone – but shows much promise for hydroelectric power, agriculture, and tourism. With open discourse on Kashmir, we might have a better idea as to the separatists’ goals and ability to achieve them. An alternative solution would help both India and Pakistan by providing ground for collaboration rather than zero-sum competition. The US could speed this process by providing an international forum for resolving, or at least openly discussing, this dispute.
The spectacularly tragic fall of Yugoslavia in the 1990s began with surging nationalism in Kosovo, a province heavily populated by Muslims in the midst of a strongly Christian republic. Yugoslavia’s political borders were hastily drawn by guerilla leaders after expelling occupation forces. Like Kosovo, Kashmir is the product of poorly thought-out borders and a grinding religious discomfort. During the 1970s and 1980s, Kosovo’s disaffected Muslim population grew – an inflow of relatively poor Albanian Muslims, and an outflow of Serbian Christians who felt increasingly out of place. The same trend appears to be happening in Kashmir, and threatens to polarize society even further. The result will be more work for Kashmir’s militants and the opposing Indian military .
It is absurd for an organization promoting peace and security to allow India a leading role until India participates, and allows others to participate, in identifying a sustainable solution for Kashmir. With a small UN peacekeeping mission already in Kashmir, India has already shown that it cannot resist the temptation to use international authority irresponsibly. Large multicultural states rarely find it in their best interests to promote separatism, but we supported Kosovo’s split from Serbia. While the United States need not explicitly support a new state in Kashmir, all options should be on the table – as they clearly are for a tired, disenfranchised population. US diplomacy must be utilized to encourage productive discussion on the future of this troubled province. Delay may not only derail India’s UNSC bid, but invite catastrophe to the region.