Srinagar and Washington

Washington must work for bringing lasting between India and Pakistan



Will the ‘cold war mummy’ come to life in South-Asia after America leaves Afghanistan towards the end of the year. This question has been haunting minds of political analysts and strategic experts in the region for some time. Notwithstanding, protracted dispute in Kabul  over the election results and standoff increasingly threatening countries stability,  the debate about US role in South Asia  got  a  new spin after two days visit of US Secretary of State, John Kerry to New Delhi,  closely followed by arrival of US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel on a three day visit.

 In India, visit of Kerry and Hagel did not create much of enthusiasm in print media. Even “ultra-nationalist” TV channels, contrary to their habit were not euphoric about it. Largely, the visit was seen as a move for ‘re-energizing the bilateral ties between two nations and narrow down the difference on issues’ and to reach out to Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, before his schedule visit to Washington in September. The visit did not create waves in Delhi nevertheless it send alarm bells to Pakistan. With, the PML (N) government facing toughest challenges from the rival opposition party and it fighting   survival battle largely there was no official reaction from Pakistan officials,  if US visits to India had to do something to space Pakistan would get In Afghanistan US withdrawal. However, some Pakistani commentators looked at the visit aimed at shrinking Pakistan’s role in the region.  

Mansoor Jafar editor of Al-Arabiya writing in Saudi Gazette as to how United States used Pakistan for furthering its geo-strategic interests was now “patronizing” India with the aim of making the ‘country a globally powerful ally as a counterweight to China’s influence in the region.’  Exuding with scepticism about Washington’s role in South Asia for enabling India to “rise” Asif Ezdi a Pakistani commentator talking about US foreign policy initiatives  in South Asia in which India is “linchpin” ‘are ostensibly but in reality  intended to serve  the strategic purpose of enhancing India’s regional profile while marginalising Pakistan.’

 Most of Pakistani commentators are apprehensive about increasing diplomatic activities by US in India after change of guard in New Delhi. Islamabad has started believing that Washington will go extra-mile in its relations with New Delhi to win over good will of Narendra Modi- it had denied visa in the past and to end acrimony caused because of NSA snooping on the BJP.  But, some important commentators of Indian origin like former editor of Newsweek Tunku Varadarajan are not optimistic, they see ‘the bar in US-India relation at low’ and do not see these improving, despite the two countries converging in their fears of Chinese aggression and expansion in Asia’. The Americans pretty well understand India is ‘loath to embrace to any formal alliance with it for checkmating Beijing.’ But given to mind-set of India largely wedded to non-aligned policy commentator Varadarajan holds the view, “as things stand, America gets neither strategic comfort nor a fair economic opportunity from India. Perhaps it’s time for Washington to shrug its shoulders and move on, leaving a warmer relationship with India to a time when Indians have made up their muddled minds about the kind of country theirs is—or ought to be.”

One may agree or may not agree with argument advanced by Varadarajan but in all likelihood South-Asia after US exit from Afghanistan will throw up newer challenges to peace and stability.   To avert, these challenges if one may recall statements by US special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan Late Richard Holbrooke and President Obama that gateway to permanent peace in Afghanistan passed through Kashmir. True, initially the much touted phrase was dropped after India-US nuclear deal but it not only holds good today but after total drawdown of US soldiers from Afghanistan it will become more significant for Kashmir remaining only major dispute in Asia to be resolved. It is equally true since 1947, as very rightly pointed out by Ahmed Rashid in ‘Descent into Chaos’ US ‘did not recognize how crucial the India-Pakistan dispute over Kashmir is to stability in the region.’  But, fact of matter is Washington has been at centre of the dispute from the day India knocked at United Nations.  It was United States that co-sponsored the UN resolution about Kashmir that guaranteed right to self-determination for people of the state.  And despite seeing no major strategic interest at stake in the region Washington runs through Kashmir narrative as good as third party along with India and Pakistan. To seek US support on Kashmir, Nehru in 1948, sought a ‘long-term military collaboration with US, one of major implication for seeking exclusive relationship, marginalizing Pakistan. But, pentagon rejected the overture,’ and thereafter it took a stand on Kashmir. ‘Washington, the US mission to UN, US embassies in New Delhi and Karachi worked in unison.’  Not only through embassies, Srinagar and Washington established a direct link after Sheikh as representative of Indian delegation established connection with W. Austin and sought US support for independent Kashmir.   In this column, it may not be possible to completely recap US role in Kashmir dispute. But, at all important junctures, Washington had a role in Kashmir dispute. In 1962, after India-China, when India and Pakistan were contemplating partition of Jammu and Kashmir, Washington supported Kashmir going to Pakistan, India guaranteed a corridor for supplies to Ladkah, because of threat from China. Even after 1972 bilateral agreement between India and Pakistan in Shimla and   New Delhi preferring calling Kashmir a “bilateral problem” and ruling out third party involvement Washington has been   at the centre of cessation of Kashmir related hostility between two countries- Kargil war is a classic examples.

United States must recognize that fact as articulated by Steve Cole author of ‘Ghost Wars’ that ‘Kashmir is the cause of conflict and insecurity in south Asia’. To subvert challenge of revival of cold war in the region Washington needs to work for bringing lasting peace between India and Pakistan and help in resolution of Kashmir dispute.