Kashmir – Trump Card for Peace?

July is coming. It is now barely a fortnight away. What is so significant about this month that has made columnists, bloggers and think-tank pundits edgy around the globe?

The United States sometime back announced that it will be starting withdrawal of its troops from Afghanistan from July 2010 and by 2014 no US troops will be left in the war ravaged country. In a couple of weeks from now the US President  Obama is expected to announce how many of the hundred thousand American troops will be withdrawn from a country that has historically proved waterloo for   the    powers  in the world.

The decision about withdrawing from Afghanistan has generated a hot debate in Washington but what is distinctly visible in these debates is worry and nervousness. ‘Top military chiefs are warning that a precipitous change- too many, too quickly – may undo the gains made there.’ Dr. Marvin G Weinbarum analyzing in his article titled     “The Price of Failure in Afghanistan” posted on the website of the Middle East Institute has forewarned his government about the situation that is   likely to emerge after the withdrawal of US military. He writes, “With a reduced NATO presence countrywide, even a strengthened training mission will not be enough to keep Afghan security forces from fracturing, or a hunkered down Kabul government from soon collapsing. With no prospect of development assistance or governance reform, Afghans across the country can be expected to turn against residual coalition forces. A proxy civil war is predictable with Iran, Russia, India and Saudi Arabia and Pakistan backing their various Afghan clients. Fearing retribution, ethnic cleansing, and economic deprivation, millions of Afghans are likely to flee again to Pakistan and Iran, creating a humanitarian crisis that dwarfs any previous exodus.”  He is not alone in articulating these kinds of views there are many in the United States that think like him. The Washington Post reported that a two-year congressional investigation has concluded that U.S. nation-building has only had limited success and that the nation may not survive the withdrawal.’

The fears expressed by Dr. Marvin about the US retreat from Afghanistan may be stretching it thus far but what is important to understand is the impact of these developments on South Asian politics and if these developments would further entangle Kashmir problem or help in its resolution. In 2008 during the election campaign of Obama and the after  publishing of article  “From Great Game to Grand Bargain – Ending chaos in Afghanistan and Pakistan’ by Barnett R Rubin and Ahmed Rashid, in Prestigious US Journal Foreign Affairs it was very strongly believed that peace to Afghanistan passed through the gateway of Kashmir.  

The thesis put by the two authors was certified during campaign in an interview by Barrack Obama in an interview with MSNBC by suggesting that his administration would encourage India to solve the Kashmir dispute with Pakistan, so that Islamabad can better cooperate with the US on Afghanistan. And this belief was further strengthened when a fifty page report prepared by the task-force formed by US-based Asia society had called on Obama administration to find lasting settlement of Kashmir dispute and encourage behind the scene efforts to deescalate tension between India and Pakistan over the issue. Initially Richard Holbrook and General Jones were part of the task force but at the time of  preparation of the report the duo stepped down but the report titled “A Strategy for Stabilizing Afghanistan-Pakistan” was brought under the co-chairmanship of Thomas Pickering once US ambassador in India and Barnett Rubin Strategic Expert. The report that was believed to emerge as gospel for Barrack Obama on India-Pakistan relations for its tone and tenor was as significant.  “The United States should continue to encourage India and Pakistan to build on their existing composite dialogue to normalize their relations, including their behind-the-scenes efforts to deescalate tensions over Kashmir and find a lasting settlement to the dispute These efforts are especially important given the history of three wars and several crises between these two nuclear weapons states. Moreover, Kashmir has provided 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”. Notwithstanding the tag of Kashmir was removed from the brief US envoy Richard Holbrook at the insistence of New Delhi there were enough of indications to suggest that Kashmir was central to his doctrine of bringing lasting peace in the region. The New York Times after the death of Holbrooke quoted eminent US-based Iranian scholar Vali Nasar a member of Holbrooke’s team at the state department as having said that Mr. Holbrooke believed that crucial step to reduce radicalism in Pakistan was to resolve Kashmir dispute and he favored more pressure on India to achieve that.’

In the scenario that was building up during past couple of years it seemed that Kashmir was not only the gateway to peace in South Asia but it was emerging as the trump card in South Asian politics. Now when the United States has decided to withdraw its troops from Afghanistan the question arises has Kashmir last the importance it had gained during past few years in the region.

In the post 9/11 scenario the US priorities in the region changed Prof. Hafeez Malik his highly scholarly book US Relations With Afghanistan and Pakistan – The Imperial Dimension published by Oxford Karachi in 2008 analyzing what he calls as US imperial system writes that the US relation with Pakistan by its determination to fight a protracted war against Al- Qaeda militants and resurgent Taliban.’ But he at the same time poses a question that how long this relationship will live between the United States. He says that is difficult to determine but at the same time he writes that the US Foreign policy in its current phase is driven  by long term collaboration with India to enable it to counter-weight the power of China.  In a June 4 article in the New York Times article Mark Mazzetti analyzing Americas ‘tormented’ relations with Pakistan talks of India’s ascendance in the region as a power that will almost replace Pakistan as US ally in the region. He believes   American withdrawal from Afghanistan could put greater distance between US and Pakistan and allow ties between Washington and New Delhi to grow.  Prof. Akbar S Ahmed  in a  long  interview to CNN on withdrawal of US troops provides a deeper insight in the scenario that is likely to emerge afterwards and how it was going to change balance of power in the region. He see India “as a winner” and for India’s emerging as a regional power and its financial and political aid to Afghanistan makes it a player in the great game.’ India’s 500 million dollars aid to the ravaged country he believes would allow to ‘executing master stroke in terms of great game.’ He has said, “without firing a shot, India now has a presence along Pakistan’s borders.’ Believing that America also relies heavily on India to help ‘stabilize the country after it starts withdrawing he strongly believes, “India’s increasing presence in Afghanistan will become a nightmare for Pakistan always concerned about being squeezed on both flanks by its larger neighbor. Neither country has forgotten that they have fought three wars; only this time both are nuclear.”

Bruce O Riedel, author of Deathly Embrace and a former CIA officer almost holds similar views and says, “As we begin to rely on Pakistan less to get supplies into Afghanistan, America’s axis with India will continue to strengthen.”  In the withdrawal troop some scholars see beginning of a ‘ new Great Game for dominance in the region, with stakes like billions of dollars in mineral wealth in Afghanistan, access to vital shipping lanes, and a need to monitor the longstanding tensions between India and Pakistan.”  Not only  Bruce Riedel but there are many important political analysts that believe that  if the United State’s pursues the policy of pushing Pakistan aside in the new game plane it would be natural for ‘Islamabad to grow even closer to China and Saudi Arabia, two longtime allies and trading partners. In all likelihood it seems that the region is going to enter into another phase of uncertainty. It now largely depends upon the Asian Powers China, India and Pakistan not to allow this uncertainty effect peace and stability in the region.

In this bizarre scenario that sufficiently suggests Washington very subtly pushing New Delhi and Islamabad on a collision course the question arises that if the two neighboring countries will love to be caught up in the dragnet or draft their own policies of friendship, mutual trust and resolves all their disputes including the long standing Kashmir problem.

(Feedback at zahidgm@greaterkashmir.com)