All Eyes On Kashmir As Biden Takes Charge Of White House

Awbuck Qandoe

New Delhi, November 18, 2020: Donald Trump is on his way out. He doesn’t want to go, but he eventually has to. Joe Biden has sent him reluctantly packing alright. And halfway around the world, here in India on Tuesday, India’s home minister Amit Shah uncorked a sharp, rhetorical attack on the political elite in Jammu and Kashmir.

Is it a mere coincidence that New Delhi’s sterner-than-ever position on Kashmir comes amid a change of guard at the White House?

It could be, but it sure doesn’t seem so.

Look at the newly-crowned Biden camp’s stated position on Kashmir. And you can perhaps see dots worth connecting.

Biden, the Democrat from Delaware, and his sidekick, vice-president-elect Kamala Harris, are both well-known critics of the India’s 2019 decision to end Jammu and Kashmir’s semiautonomous status.

They are both ‘anti-New Delhi’ and ‘pro-Kashmir’. Over the past, they have been vocal about their stance on Kashmir.

In fact, it’s not just on Kashmir, but there are various other pro-Muslim causes in America and around the world that the US Democratic Party prominently identifies itself with.

That position is natural and understandable, considering the noteworthy rise of an influential ‘left wing’ within the Democratic Party in recent times.

But then it is an entirely different debate that the same Democratic Party – that has had its fare share of running the White House – has barely ever bothered to end American imperialist moves and military misadventures in Muslim-dominated West Asia!

That epic American two-facedness is not the point of discussion here (Empire Diaries will roll up its sleeves and address that some other time, for sure!). Let us return to the Biden-Kashmir evolving story.

So now that Biden is set to take charge of the White House – he will formally become the 46th American president on January 20, 2021 – one can speculate if the Democrat-run US government will soon start poking New Delhi in all the wrong places.

So then is this why India’s home minister has lashed out at the Gupkar Alliance, hinting that anti-Centre J&K politicians are throwing open the Kashmir valley’s doors to “foreign interference”?

The Gupkar Alliance, by the way, is a rebellious grand alliance of opportunistic political parties in the J&K region, across the ideology spectrum, that have flocked together to seek the restoration of Article 370.

The world first learnt about Biden’s position on Kashmir in June this year when he first opened up on the issue.

“In Kashmir, the Indian government should take all necessary steps to restore rights for all the people of Kashmir. Restrictions on dissent, such as preventing peaceful protests or shutting or slowing down the Internet, weaken democracy” – those were Biden’s words as a Democratic Party candidate in his policy paper ‘Agenda for Muslim American Communities’ that was published by his 2020 election campaign.

It’s amply clear from those words that as the American president, Biden would definitely lean towards those on the Kashmir issue who want Article 370 restored. Period.

But then, we are dealing with politicians here, you see. And with politicians, the weather can change overnight. Some analysts point out that instead of straightaway antagonising the Indian government with his stated position on Kashmir, Biden might rather opt for a geopolitical balancing act – keep things on an even keel.

In a Quartz India article published on October 16, 2020, Michael Kugelman, deputy director and senior associate for South Asia at the Wilson Centre, a US monitor, said, “We may see more US criticism of India’s policies in Kashmir and its domestic policies under a president Biden, especially if a Biden White House brings in some liberal Democrats to serve in senior foreign policy roles. But I wouldn’t overstate this possibility. Given the importance that the US accords to partnership with India, we’d likely see a Biden administration wanting to be careful not to antagonise New Delhi.”

On the Kashmir issue, like on many other foreign policy matters, Biden’s sidekick Kamala too holds the same opinion, if not a more firm one.

In October last year, US vice-president-elect Kamala said during an event, “We have to remind the Kashmiris that they are not alone in the world. We are keeping a track on the situation. There is a need to intervene if the situation demands.”

Kamala was making those categorical remarks in response to a question from the audience on rights issues in the Kashmir valley, especially after the semiautonomous region was turned into a union territory.

So the bottom line is, here we have a new combination at the White House – Joe Biden and Kamala Harris – who both very strongly feel in favour of a semiautonomous Kashmir.

In the months and years to come, if they are not caught up in the need for a geopolitical tightrope walk, it is likely that the Biden-Harris duo will be eyeing the Kashmir valley as a simmering boxing ring.

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