Invoking US intervention on Kashmir

United States has made it clear once again that it has no intention to mediate between India and Pakistan on Kashmir dispute. In the latest instance, media reports quoted a top official of the Obama administration saying that US was not seeking to broker talks between India and Pakistan on the Kashmir issue. Last year, US president Barrack Obama had also ruled out any solution from "outside" to Kashmir issue while underlining that disputes between India and Pakistan can only be resolved by the two countries themselves.



The US policy on Kashmir is quite clearly dictated by its strategic ties with India. Kashmiris would ideally like to see US play a more pro-active role in resolving Kashmir by using its influence over both India and Pakistan. US tries to calm down the situation when developments connected with Kashmir lead India and Pakistan into a critical confrontation. Kashmiris would like to see US go beyond this traditional crisis management role and make more sustained efforts at resolving the issue.

When Obama assumed the office of US president in January 2009, it evoked hope among Kashmiris. During campaigning, Obama hit a raw nerve in India by suggesting that United States should try to help resolve Kashmir dispute so that Pakistan can focus on hunting down Taliban militants on its north-western frontier rather than worrying about tensions with India on its eastern border. He appeared to favour a more pro-active approach to resolve Kashmir for the stability of the region. Infact, at one point, the Obama administration contemplated appointing former president Bill Clinton as a special envoy to the region.

The hope generated by Obama’s election turned into disappointment when he remained silent on Kashmir during his visit to India in November 2010. Separatist leaders issued statements of condemnation over Obama’s “criminal silence” on Kashmir issue.  But that’s what politicians do. They say things when they are campaigning, but don’t act on them when they are in office. According to Howard B. Schaffer, author of "The Limits of Influence: America’s Role in Kashmir", Washington feared that any overt American interference in Kashmir could backfire and set back warming relations between India and the US.

The US policy vis-à-vis Kashmir has witnessed several changes since the armed movement broke out in the valley in 1989. It is best reflected in the changes in the US media coverage of Kashmir conflict since 1989. The conflict was initially described by the US media as a violent Kashmiri separatist movement.  Kashmiris were predominantly identified as armed militants fighting for secession of Kashmir from India which was depicted initially as a country suppressing the rebellion in Kashmir through violent means with the help of its armed forces. Later, however, the same armed forces were seen as fighting Pakistani troops and non-Kashmiri Islamic fighters. Pakistan was consistently identified as a country supporting the Kashmiri separatist movement with arms and training, and later as a country itself participating in the conflict through its military. The United States was consistently described as a country concerned with peace and security in South Asia. After 1998, US media has portrayed the conflict mostly as a potential nuclear war.

Though it could have helped India and Pakistan work out a permanent solution on Kashmir, the US mediation on the issue looks a distant possibility. The region is of little interest to the United States for several reasons. The dispute is largely unfamiliar to most Americans and Kashmir contains no resources that are of interest to the US and its allies. Besides, resolution of Kashmir conflict does not involve any ideological values dear to the United States. Though preventing nuclear war has been the focus of US policy towards South Asia in the recent past, the region still remains a low-priority area for the American diplomacy.

While India is extremely sensitive to any suggestion of outside interference in Kashmir, Pakistan has been seeking US intervention on the issue. Islamabad has been urging the United States to pressurise India over the Kashmir imbroglio, often citing civilian killings and other human rights violations involving armed forces. Following the 2010 unrest in Kashmir, the then Foreign Minister of Pakistan, Shah Mehmood Qureshi said: "We call upon the United States, which is pressing so responsibly for peace in the Middle East, to also invest its political capital in trying to help seek an accommodation on Kashmir.”

In the current scenario, Kashmiris would also hope to see US invest its political capital and look for opportunities to play a helpful role on Kashmir.