Can Obama Administration Push Through Kashmir Resolution, is the Question?

It is a dominant question.  I think it would be more appropriate to say that after Barak Obama took over the overriding discourse in India, Pakistan and the United State has been if the new US administration to all intents and purposes wants to push through the resolution of Kashmir problem. The discussion over the United States playing a role in the resolution of Kashmir dispute received another fillip on Thursday (June 25-2009) when Pakistan Prime Minister, Yousuf Raza Gilani in his meeting with US National Security Adviser General James Jones,  called upon the world at large and the US in particular to play their role for the resolution of the “core issue of Kashmir” as well as the water issue between Pakistan and India, as it would help Islamabad focus on fighting extremism and terrorism on its western border to ensure peace and stability in South Asia.

Looking at the statement of Pakistan Prime Minister it is more or less a reflection of the ideas expressed by the US president Barak Obama during his election campaign and after getting elected and number of US South Asia experts.

There has been a lot of talk about the idea of regional approach for resolution of the Kashmir problem after an article, “From Great Game to Grand Bargain Ending Chaos in Afghanistan and Pakistan’ written jointly by Barnett R Rubin and Ahmed Rashid was published in the November-December issue of the Foreign Affairs. The article   summed up: The crisis in Afghanistan and Pakistan is beyond the point where more troops will help. U.S. strategy must be to seek compromise with insurgents while addressing regional rivalries and insecurities.”  There has been a lot of debate in the sub-continent and at the international level after the publication of this article if path to enduring peace in South Asia passed through Kashmir only.   Before looking into the question if the Obama administration was really serious in pushing through resolution of Kashmir there is need for understanding as to how the United States has been looking at Kashmir. There is also need to know history of its role in resolving this problem.

Stephen Cohen in his book India- Emerging Power (Washington Brooking Institution Press) has beautifully encapsulated it in these words: “Kashmir is both cause and consequences of the India-Pakistan Conundrum. It is primarily a dispute about justice and people although its territorial dimensions are complicated enough. Like many intractable problems, it is hard to tell where domestic politics ends and foreign policy begins, and dispute has firmly wedged in the internal politics of both the countries”.

Historically the United States has been involved with Kashmir dispute from the day it was born. The United National Security Council Resolution adopted on 21 April 1948 that gave right to self-determination to the people of Jammu and   was co-sponsored by the United States. The United State involvement in the Kashmir conflict was far greater during the cold war.

 

The United States as very aptly said by a US South Asia expert like India and Pakistan has remained in some respects to hostage to Kashmir problem. ‘This problem could be neglected, perhaps, but it could not be avoided.’ Though America’s interests in Kashmir ‘could not be doubted’ but it stakes in the conflict were not sufficient enough for it ‘to mount a major and sustained attempt aimed at settlement of it.’  There are opinions that suggest the conflict over Kashmir between India and Pakistan perpetuated because of the cold war- and many an experts have seen it as a baby born out of womb of cold war only.

The US interest in the Kashmir conflict started receding after the 1961 India and China war but it got diluted further after the end of the cold war. It no more saw favored US supervised plebiscite but started looking at the Simla Agreement as best framework for the resolution of Kashmir problem. In 1972 both India and Pakistan had agreed at Simla to resolve Kashmir dispute through bilaterally.  The period saw    Washington’s leanings towards New Delhi and basic a shift in its Kashmir policy.

This change in US policy on Kashmir that was seen “less Pakistan centric” had caused lot of rejoicing in New Delhi
 The United States interests in Kashmir got renewed after the Clinton Administration took over. The perceptions of the United States about Kashmir were explained by Assistant Secretary of State for South Asia Ms. Robin Lynn Raphel when during her visit to New Delhi in October 1993 She said, “The United States government view Kashmir a disputed territory and that means we don’t recognize that Instrument of Accession as meaning that Kashmir is forever more an integral part of India.” Robin Raphel’s phrasing was ‘consistent with Washington’s formal position on Kashmir’. The Clinton Administration reiterated this stand with same intensity but preferred to use milder phraseology. True, after the end of the cold war the United States did not insist for implementation of the UN Security Resolutions on Kashmir but favored resolution of the dispute through bilateral negotiations it did not mean that in its understanding the plebiscite had   lost its relevance. It continued its political importance as it provided the hinge to the Kashmir problem.  As very rightly put by Prof. Robert G Wirsing, “The Plebiscite option, we need to understand, remains an important factor in the Kashmir dispute no matter how slender its chances of its being activated.”

 
Kashmir continued to be on the agenda of the Clinton Administration as nuclear flashpoint in South Asian regions that demands resolution for global peace till it continued in office. Its importance diminished after 9/11 but it would be wrong to say that it was taken off the US agenda. Kashmir continued on the agenda of the Bush Administration. President George Bush not only asked India and Pakistan to resolve the Kashmir dispute through peaceful dialogue but rather insisted on inclusion of Kashmir in the dialogue. In his interview February 2006 interview to some Indian journalist in Washington he had made it clear that he wanted Kashmiri citizens in the dialogue between India and Pakistan. Talking to Indian journalists he had said: “I do want to make something clear in the speech I gave today (to Asia Society). I said that — as to the Kashmir interest — issue, America supports a solution that is acceptable to all sides. As you might recall in my remarks, I said, “to both sides.” I would like the record to be so that the world hears me say, “all sides.” I fully understand that the deal has to be acceptable to the Indians, Pakistanis, as well as the citizens of Kashmir. Okay?”

Seen in right historical perspective United States Policy towards Kashmir problem despite suffering from troughs and crests has been consistent. The perceptions of the Obama administration towards Kashmir are not much different than its predecessors in office but it has adopted different   approach. It sees Kashmir problem   connected with restoring peace in stability not only in Afghanistan and Pakistan but whole of South Asia.   Mr. Obama  on a couple of occasions argued that Pakistan will not fully commit to fighting the insurgency it shares with Afghanistan until “it sheds historic insecurities toward India. Talks about Kashmir, the central point of contention between the two nuclear rivals, are among the "critical tasks for the next administration,"  It is true that Barak Obama did not appoint a  special envoy for Kashmir as he had announced and did not include Kashmir in the brief of Richard Holbrooke US special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan. However, there have been reports and indications about Holbrooke having engaged India in ‘conversation on Kashmir’ and having also succeeded in setting thaw in the halted dialogue between the two countries. The United States nudging is seen behind meeting between Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh and President Asif Ali Zardari in a Russian city and Foreign Ministers meeting during the G-8 Conference in Italy on 27 June 2009.

The past four to five months developments suggest that Kashmir is slowly once again taking centre stage in the United States policy. On 6 April 2006, one of the premier US think tanks that was set up last year with Richard Holbrooke and General James also   before they took official assignments      called on the Obama administration to find the lasting settlement to Kashmir dispute and encourage behind the scenes efforts to deescalate tensions between India and Pakistan over the issue.  In its fifty pages report , “ A Strategy for Stablizing Afghanistan and Pakistan it emphasized the importance of resolution of Kashmir  for it having caused wars in the region and tension for past sixty two years and   provide ding the rationale for decades for support of guerrilla and militants operations by groups based in Pakistan that have escaped the control of the state apparatus that established and protected them”.  

The opinion about imperativeness of Kashmir resolution for peace in the region is gaining momentum. The United Nation’s Association of United States in June only adopted a resolution in support of Kashmir solution. Given to the opinion gaining strength in Washington and approach of the Obama administration towards conflicts there are indications that the US will be playing an important in coming months for pushing through an amicable and peaceful resolution of Kashmir problem.