Obama’s Kashmir policy: What ahead !

The US campaign for next presidential elections has started with a seemingly strong competition between Republican candidate Mitt Romney and democrat President Barrack Obama. Kashmir issue finds no place in the presumed fight on the foreign policy between the democrats and the republicans. Strategists have claimed that this year’s presidential election is not going to be won or lost on foreign policy issues, which has no potential to animate American voter this time. Popular perception of Obama’s handling of the economy, which is yet to recover from the financial crisis that enveloped US in 2008, is most likely to be the decisive factor in the elections. Thus, Kashmir issue drifted from national policy of US which it occasionally acquired in 2008 election campaign of Barrack Obama. Romney is making foreign visits in the middle of the campaign to express views on foreign policy but his silence on Kashmir issue has caused worry to Kashmari separatist lobbies in Washington because Obama’s republican challenger Mitt Romney yet has to develop argument about Kashmir.

Similarly Barrack Obama wooed the world with his sweeping rhetoric and uplifting ideas in 2008 presidential campaign. His visits to global hot spots exceeded expectation and he was first to raise Kashmir issue in a national campaign. Obama declared that time “to resolve Kashmir issue in working with India and Pakistan would be one the critical tasks of his administration. Though obviously a tar pit diplomatically but there is a movement potentially we could get the India and Pakistanis attention, though not easy but important”. Separatists become happy and India troubled due to Obama’s unexpected interest in the issue. The reason was his belief that resolving the Kashmir impasse will end the Pakistanis support for terrorist organizations. So he was engaging in developing a policy that will move Pakistan away from being a hot house of terror. Coming to grips with Pakistan obsession with India, Kashmir is critical to killing the monster and the time may ripe for it. In an interview on MSNBC 2008, Obama suggested that his administration would encourage India to solve the Kashmir dispute with Pakistan, so that Islamabad can better cooperate with US on Afghanistan. Pakistan can stay focused not on India but on the militants. From US perception the sources of afghan instability lies in Pakistan, which in turn are linked with Indo-Pak conflict and the heart of which is Kashmir.

India viewed this US Kashmir policy as skewed because it had generous tilt towards Pakistan and caused uncertainty and anxiety within the New Delhi’s foreign policy establishment. In an interview with Joe Klein of time magazine in outnumber 2008 two weeks before election, Obama had talked about to devote serious diplomatic resources to get a special envoy in Kashmir, to figure out a plausible approach. When he got elected it was rumoured that Bill Clinton would be his choice for that mission but instead diplomat Richard Holbrooke was called from private life to be his special envoy not for Kashmir but for Pakistan and Afghanistan. He was not provided mandate over Kashmir by Obama administration and Ambassador Howard Schaffer writes that Holbrooke tells him that he never had any intention of becoming involved in Kashmir. It was partly because of India’s tough stance. Like Bush, the new president believed that India was a rising global power whose friendship was vitally important for United States and thus during his 2010 official visit to India claimed ‘partnership with India will be one of the defining partnerships of 21th century’. His position became clear when he followed his predecessors policy in settlement efforts acceptable to India. He did not permit Kashmir issue to become a stumbling block to progress in developing the close ties with India it so valued.
Obama has dissatisfied many by not fulfilling the initial promise to radically recast American foreign policy. Even Obama did not talked about Kashmir during the summer protests in 2010 and had little to say about 120 innocent deaths because he didn’t wanted to spoil its relations with India or due to latter’s economic deterrence. During his visit to India in November 2010, he did not mention the issue in his address to parliament. Earlier Bush refused to inject US in the Indo-Pak conflict, despite relentless pressures from the Gen Musharaf pledging US intervention in Kashmir dispute. After success Obama took the same hard line towards Pakistan because of diverse reasons. Pakistan’s internal cooperation with militants and providing shelter to them like Osama made US suspicious of Pakistan. Pakistan’s failure to contain Taliban for US and its lack of sincere partnership against terrorism turned US support from Pakistan towards India.

Recently Obama on 18th July said that no solution on Kashmir could be imposed. It is not the place of any nation including US, to try to impose solutions from outside. Obama’s outright rejection and the Romney’s silence on any intervention over Kashmir is reflected through the strand relations both are tied in. The battered relations and the growing intelligence crisis between Pakistan and US, made the latter indifferent towards Kashmir issue. Reacting to the statement that Obama’s administration will not talk about Kashmir, Yasin Malik said that such statements will not help but are like rubbing salt on the wounds of subjected people. USA was always asking for solution to the vexed issue, which is according to the wishes and aspirations of people and because of US insistence Kashmir turned its struggle from violent to non-violent mode and ironically is now taking least efforts. Similarly Geelani said, it smacks of double standards and is akin to murder of justice.

However, both forget that Kashmir was never on US political priority instead a bargaining chip to serve their interests in the south Asian region by mobilizing its major actors. Though earlier US was having tilt towards Pakistan for achieving its cooperation for Afghanistan but the equilibrium has now changed and after experiencing severe battle in Afghanistan, USA needs India’s partnership both in Afghanistan as well as in economic realm. Recently Obama expressed that India will be critical to Afghanistan’s future. On the other hand, US views that it had profound interest in stable and prosperous Pakistan for a credible success at Afghanistan and not Kashmir issue which earlier used to be.

Unfortunately the solution to Kashmir conflict has got linked with the future of Afghanistan and Pakistan’s instability.
The apparent failure of the Kashmir separatist lobbies at Washington is their failure to make the presence of Kashmir issue in the national presidential campaign at US and shaking evidence is the silence of the Mitt Romney’s over it. It seems clear that for achieving Indian cooperation in Afghanistan, US will not change its approach to the Kashmir issue. It will continue to pursue a close relationship with India and will not want to disturb this. Even if the Republican candidate wins the presidential election, the policy is not likely to go change. Both parties favour strong relations with India and there is no reason to expect that a republican in the White House will want to jeopardize these relations by taking up issue of Kashmir settlement. After elections India will be pleased and Pakistan disappointed as Washington would continue to look at Kashmir as bilateral issue to settle it bilaterally.

(The author is M.Phil scholar of South Asian studies at JNU, New Delhi and can be mailed at mnazar00@gmail.com)