Kashmir Vital To Obama’s AfPak Plan

4 October 2009
Kashmir Times
Mohammad Sayeed Malik

Srinagar: Why did America float and India shoot down the idea of co-opting India into President Barack Hussein Obama’s ‘AfPak’ strategic plan to stabilise Asian region? India convincingly argued that while Afghanistan and Pakistan were ‘part of the problem’ it saw itself as ‘part of the solution’. Bracketing two incompatibles together was unacceptable. Incontestable truth; but not the whole truth! The real story behind this drama is slowly unfolding with series of connected developments on the international scene. Voices calling for early resolution of Kashmir problem at international level are becoming more strident. The unsaid part of India’s counter argument against Obama plan has that unmentionable ‘K’ word to it. A view projected by policy-making circles in America is that ‘the long-standing dispute over Kashmir is one part of a wider regional dynamic that has direct (Washington’s) ability implications for supporting a stable Afghan state and to address the threat posed by terrorist groups in South Asia’. More precisely, a recent analysis in The New York Times elaborated that ‘when Kashmir is discussed in strategic discourse it is usually in the context of a broader stabilisation effort in the region’. The analysis diagnosed a critical deficiency in India-Pakistan bilateral approach in relation to Kashmir and debunked justification for its retention: ‘This (bilateral) approach is based on the presumption that once Delhi and Islamabad decide on a solution Kashmiris will fall in line. But, Kashmiris have the capacity to surprise anyone’. This conclusion is supported by ground reality: Spontaneous revolt in 2008 summer over Amarnath land issue; unexpectedly good voter turnout in 2008 and 2009 elections, and sustained protest demonstrations in 2009 against human rights violation depict three different facets of ground reality in Kashmir. The confounding peculiar mosaic illuminates a crucial fact, missed or ignored by India and Pakistan but recognised by others, that the Kashmir problem (or dispute, if you will) has a political dynamic of its own. The summer-2008 mass upsurge stunned India as it pleasantly surprised Pakistan. Large turnout of voters in the assembly polls held in autumn had just the opposite effect. The first was conveniently showcased by Pakistan as ‘proof of overwhelming anti-India sentiment across Kashmir’. The second event was over-blown by India with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh contending ‘there is no space for separatist ideology in Kashmir’. But it was the third part of this chain, namely large scale sustained protest demonstrations against rampant violation of human rights, which highlighted the least visible but most potent dimension of the scenario: That the Kashmir problem is something more than a mere territorial dispute between India and Pakistan. That it concerns the frustrations and aspirations of a living mass of humanity, seething with unrest and disaffection, without addressing which the problem can never be solved. Recognising this part of the reality, The New York Times analysis asserts that political instability in Kashmir has the ‘potential to unsettle Indo-Pak relations’ which is detrimental to the US stabilisation effort in the region. It reflected the US policy-makers’ view seeking to ‘build a coalition including at least some major Kashmiri stake holders’, even as it points at the state’s fractionalised political spectrum. Without getting Kashmiris on board no lasting solution is possible. Daniel Markey, senior fellow for India Pakistan and South Asia, council on foreign relations, says ‘ there is little doubt that normalised relations between India and Pakistan, including a regionally acceptable settlement on Kashmir would offer tremendous benefits to the US.....Washington should not seek to insert itself into diplomacy between Islamabad and New Delhi or to press publicly for concessions from either side.....The White House is understandably eager to promote Indo-Pak rapprochement. The long-standing dispute over Kashmir is one part of a wider regional dynamic that has direct implications for Washington’s ability to support a stable Afghanistan state and to address the threat posed by terrorist groups in South Asia’. However, the Indian and Pakistani perspectives do not square up with this vision. Dr C Raja Mohan, School of international studies, NTU Singapore, says that Obama administration should do ‘nothing’ directly. He argues that the US ‘tilt’ towards Pakistan in the past has much to do with accumulated mistrust between India and Pakistan. ‘Bush administration chose to ‘ignore’ the (Kashmir) issue and it was during this period that India and Pakistan made biggest progression towards resolving Kashmir dispute’. ‘Obama administration should quickly step back from its initial impulse to reinject itself into Kashmir. The administration must nevertheless persist in building on Obama’s one important insight: The conflicts on the eastern and western borders of Pakistan are interconnected.’ Hassan Askari Rizvi, Independent political and defence analyst, Pakistan, says ‘the Obama administration is most suited to help ease tension between India and Pakistan....Pakistan would like the US to play a mediatory role on Kashmir. But, this is not possible because India is opposed to it. However the US can help the two sides make dialogue result oriented. If the less complicated issuesýthe Siachen Glacier, Sir Creek boundary and the Waters issueýare resolved this would produce enough goodwill to resolve Kashmir conflict. The US administration should be more assertive in working toward improved India-Pakistan relations.’ Howard B. Schaffer, deputy director, institute for the study of diplomacy, Georgetown University, asserts that ‘the unsettled Kashmir dispute poses a potentially serious threat to the expanding interests the United States now has in South Asia’. ‘Pakistan’s support for armed insurgents in Kashmir contributes significantly to tension with India and heightens Indian suspicion that Islamabad is responsible for perpetrating violence across India’. On the other hand, there is a realisation within the US circles that ‘traditional focus of the Pakistan armed forces combating a perceived threat from India and the continuing patronage that Pakistan Intelligence agencies provide to Islamic extremists in Kashmir make it more difficult, both militarily and politically, for Islamabad to help the United States and its coalition partners combat the Afghan Taleban and al-Qaeda.’ Schaffer suggests ‘Washington should look for opportunities to play a more active role in helping resolve the dispute while recognising that this won’t be easy. Any eventual US diplomatic involvement should be unobtrusive and avoid fanfare. ‘If Washington does find a propitious opportunity to play a more active role, the settlement it promotes should call for making the Line of Control a permanent border that is porous; autonomy for Kashmiris on both sides; and joint institutions on an all-Kashmir basis.’