U.S. foreign policy toward Kashmir

After the World Trade Center and Pentagon bombings of 9/11 once again turned to Pakistan, but this time to root out Taliban and al-Qaeda terrorist in U.S. occupied Afghanistan. In the words on a RAND study, despite its quasi pariah status, “The 9/11 attacks and the subsequent U.S. decision to oust the Taliban regime in Afghanistan permitted Pakistan to become, virtually overnight, one of the United States’ most important allies in what has become known as the ‘global war or terror’ or ‘oversees contingency operations’” (1). However, many foreign policy observers are critical of the U.S. military alliance with Pakistan in the war on terror. The accusations that Pakistan is supporting groups within the Taliban are gaining currency within government circles that are wary of Pakistan’s inability or unwillingness to eradicate extremism (Fair 22-23).

The war on terror has internationalized the Kashmir conflict to some extent. However, most American policymakers see the Kashmir conflict through the prism of the international war on terror and a disproportionate amount of attention is put on Islamic extremists operating there. Kashmir’s small border with Afghanistan has caught the eye of the U.S. military command in Afghanistan who suspects ties between Kashmiri militants and al-Qaeda. Whether these accusations are true or not, such opinions are becoming increasingly common in military circles (Wirsing 91-94). Meanwhile, accusations of the Indian military for human rights violations in Kashmir receive little attention.

American cooperation with India is increasingly being seen as an alternative to Pakistan, a trend that does not bode well for Kashmir. Both the United States and India have a common enemy in militant Islam, unlike Pakistan, which suppresses some terrorist groups while supports others that have strategic value. In the minds of Americans, both India and the United States share democratic values and institutions unlike Pakistan, which has had five short-lived constitutions and prolonged periods of military dictatorship. On the floor of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Republican Senator Gary L. Ackerman dismissed accusations of Indian military rule in Kashmir, rejected administering a plebiscite, and demonizing Pakistan, and praising India: “So, Mr. Chairman, I’d like to close by saying that India is a democratic country in a region with few others, a strategic partner of the US in defense and high technology, and a strong ally in the war on terror, one whose support we don’t have to question on a daily basis” (United States, Hearing before the Subcommittee on Human Rights and Wellness 25).

Although it is too soon to tell, trends during the Obama administration indicate that the United States support in South Asia is tilting in favor of India. Meanwhile, the United States has applied very little pressure on the Indian government to stop the military violence in Kashmir, much less to restart bilateral negotiations. The Mumbai attacks in 2008 and the following investigations implicated elements within the Pakistani military of supporting the belligerents casting bad light on Pakistan. That same year the U.S.-Indian Civil Nuclear Cooperation Act was passed. In 2009 the Indian government successfully lobbied the United States government to keep the Kashmir issue out the newly appointed Special Envoy Richard Holbrooke’s purview (Kirk 153). More recently in his visit to India, Barack Obama addressed economic and trade but made no mention of Kashmir, to the disappointment of many. As the United States and India’s interest converge on trade, the economic crisis, and security the U.S. acquiesces in remaining silent on the Kashmir for the sake of the U.S.-Indian relationship.

It is unlikely that the United States will take any meaningful effort to internationalize the Kashmir issue and address the Indian military’s human rights violations. As the United States becomes increasingly frustrated with Pakistan’s unwillingness or inability to root out the Taliban and al-Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan, the U.S.-Indian relationship is becoming stronger. If the United States is forced to take sides on the Kashmir issue it will inevitably take India’s side because of the need for India’s security, technological, and economic cooperation. In his book Contested Lands, Sumantra Bose argues that third party mediation is an essential step in resolving crisis over Kashmir and that America must fill that role (200-201). Although I agree that there can be no meaningful progress in negotiations without some sort of mediation, I argue that American will ultimately side with India and that it cannot fill the role of an objective third party.

The United States has a history of supporting governments that have a poor human rights record in cases when cooperation with that country is viewed as essential. Such examples include the Mubarak regime in Egypt, the Shah in Iran before 1979, and Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories. If the Kashmir conflict will be internationalized, an objective party must do it. Although the identification of such a world power is beyond the scope of this essay, I tentatively suggest the emerging powers of Russia and China. Before any mediation could occur both Pakistan and India would have to depart from the Simla Agreement and allow a third party to investigate the current situation in Kashmir.
Parker Selby is Dr. Nyla Ali Khan’s student at the University of Oklahoma, Norman.