US must be ready to intervene in Kashmir
30 May 2001
The Asian Age
Ashish Kumar Sen
San Francisco: The United States of America must be prepared to intervene “more weightily” in Kashmir if India and Pakistan appear headed for war, according to Prof. Stephen P. Cohen, a senior fellow in foreign policy studies at the Washington D.C.-based Brookings Institution. In a recent policy brief, Moving Forward in South Asia, Prof. Cohen said the key to an effective American policy in South Asia was the deepening of Washington’s engagement with India and Pakistan. The report comes on the heels of Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee’s invitation to Pakistan Chief Executive General Pervez Musharraf to come to New Delhi for talks. Kashmir will be one of the issues discussed in the proposed meeting. Prof. Cohen said the US should “work with allies and friends to prepare for a time when the parties involved in the Kashmir conflict are amenable to outside help. In the meantime, the United States should actively encourage discussion of alternative solutions to the Kashmir problem, but remain impartial.” Saying the conflict in Kashmir threatened to spill into nearby regions and raise deep concern in China, Iran, Russia, and the Central Asian republics, Prof. Cohen cautioned Kashmir was also a possible “trigger point” for an India-Pakistan nuclear war. And as long as Pakistan continued its support to the militants operating in Kashmir, the risk of an expanded conflict in both regions remained high. “Washington should make a serious attempt to work with Islamabad, reserving the option of developing a more confrontational policy if cooperative efforts fail,” he suggested. Calling Kashmir South Asia’s “critical problem” Prof. Cohen explained, “Pakistan is too weak to seize Kashmir, but is able to stoke violence in the Valley, while India is strong enough to retain Kashmir, but has not been able to govern it properly.” He was also critical of the Kashmiri leadership, which he said was “weak and confused.” Admitting neither the US nor the United Nations could impose a solution in the region, he suggested the US could take a number of steps. It could: Urge India to start a meaningful dialogue with Kashmiri leaders of all political persuasions, offer assistance to New Delhi to increase counter-terrorism and make the case to Islamabad that continued support for non-Kashmiri and terrorist groups would qualify it for inclusion on the list of states that support terrorism. Acknowledging resistance in Washington to increasing US involvement in either the Afghanistan or Kashmir conflicts, Prof. Cohen said this view was “short-sighted.” “Neither dispute is ready for resolution or for a major American role as mediator or peacemaker. But if the current situation continues, it is likely that other countries will be drawn into the Afghanistan problem, and that the Kashmir dispute eventually will lead to another India-Pakistan war. Besides the obvious consequences in Kashmir, the conflict carries the danger of a nuclear confrontation,” he added. Prof. Cohen suggested that while the crises in Afghanistan and Kashmir were unlikely to be resolved quickly, the US should notch up its level of engagement in these disputes. Besides re-engaging both India and Pakistan in strategic terms, he said Washington must overhaul current regional sanctions policy, seeking in return Indian and Pakistani compliance with missile and nuclear proliferation regimes, and should assist them in reducing the risk of accidental nuclear detonation and missile launches. Saying President George W. Bush’s “go-slow policy” towards South Asia was understandable, Prof. Cohen added, “But critical policy questions must be addressed now, immediate attention should be given to strengthening and restoring relations with India and Pakistan.” Acknowledging an improvement in bilateral ties between New Delhi and Washington towards the end of President Bill Clinton’s term in office, Prof. Cohen however added, “As Mr Clinton left office, there was no agreement on what constituted a ‘natural’ alliance. There was little progress in resolving the nuclear problem.” He said the Bush administration should, at the very least, adhere to the timetable set by Mr Clinton and Mr Vajpayee. “This would mean a ‘summit’ meeting this year and perhaps a visit to India by President Bush in 2002.” While America should pursue an “India First” policy in South Asia, this should not become an “India Only” policy, nor should India be given a veto over American relations with Islamabad, Prof. Cohen remarked in his report.