US Appointing Kashmir Expert Is there any scope of hope for us anyway?

‘If I am not reading too much in it; or it really is a significant   development that needs to be thought over and talked about.’ Or ‘it is tempest in teapot.’ On Saturday morning, after reading a newspaper report these ideas struck my mind at once.

The report said that Washington was   appointing an expert on Kashmir in the political department of its embassy at New Delhi. The notice issued by the embassy says that the official conversant in major issues affecting India-Pakistan relations and India’s policy on Kashmir   will be responsible for Internal Unit’s Kashmir account. He will be recognized expert on this portfolio, and American officers shall be placing substantial reliance on professional judgment and acumen of the officer in advising them on a variety of important and sensitive matters.  The appointee will be regularly briefing  embassy staff and visiting (US) officials on complex events and trends in his portfolio, including assessing their political impact on US interests.’ The notice suggests that expert will be the man Friday of the State Department in India regarding matters relating Kashmir.

The United States has had ‘substantial and prolonged interest’ in Kashmir. However, during past sixty-three years it will be for the first time when it will be appointing an expert on Kashmir in its embassy for updating the top envoys in the embassy and the state department about developments with regard to Kashmir. The development cannot be brushed aside as a non-event but seems of significance   and needs to be understood in the historical perspective of the US involvement and interest in Kashmir problem and the emerging scenario in South Asia.

The United State in fact has been at the centre of the dispute over the future of the state of Jammu and Kashmir from the day India took the matter to the United Nation Security Council in January 1948. Howard Schaffer has very rightly pointed out that ‘Washington, the US mission to the United Nations and the American embassies in New Delhi and Karachi became deeply involved in Kashmir issue once Indians lodged their complaint.’  No sooner Kashmir came under discussions before the Security Council, the State Department sent a clear brief to its   permanent representative. The brief stated, “The only solution acceptable to all parties concerned in  Kashmir problem will eventually be determination, probably plebiscite, of wishes of the inhabitants of Jammu and Kashmir….taking into account some form of partition may be proposed…’  from the day the dispute over future of  this state became part of international discourse.” The United State’s preeminently proactive role is discernable in all the resolutions adopted by UN about Jammu and Kashmir including that of February 5, 1949. The US had a role even in the last resolution mentioning Kashmir adopted by the United Nation on 6 June 1998. This resolution, unanimously passed by the entire United Nations Security Council after India and Pakistan became nuclear, called for resolution of the Kashmir dispute.

The paragraph five and six of the resolution no 1172 “urge India and Pakistan to resume dialogue between them on all outstanding issues particularly on all matters  pertaining to peace and security in order to remove tension between them and encourage them to find mutually acceptable solution that addresses the root cause of these tensions including Kashmir.” Historically Washington has been ‘unwilling to insert itself into the squabbles of the sub-continent but it has been focusing on India-Pakistan relation only during periods of high tensions caused by wars between the two countries or threat to nuclear related crisis.’ At no point of time has US shown its interest in Kashmir for its alliance with Pakistan but for safeguarding its own interest in the region. It has never been of that magnitude that it would go extra mile for resolution of the problem. Talking about the US role in Kashmir towards constructive engagment Prof. Robert Wirsing writes in his book, “It has generally been understood in both India and Pakistan that Washington’s stakes in the dispute had never been sufficient for it to mount major and sustained attempt aimed at settlement of it.”

Notwithstanding preferring not to insert itself in the dispute after the cold war in the wake of ‘uprising in Kashmir’ in 1989, it continued to nudge the two countries to resolve the dispute bilaterally. However, in the post 9/11 scenario Kashmir seemed for the first time finding way in US-South Asian narrative in 2008, during Obama’s election campaign and immediately after. Many US thinks tanks including task-force formed by the US-based Asia society had called on the Obama administration to find the lasting settlement to Kashmir dispute and encourage behind the scenes efforts to deescalate tensions between India and Pakistan over the issue. The resolution of Kashmir  had subtly  got into the doctrine of ‘regional approach for Afghanistan’, which was seen as cornerstone of American political strategy for Pakistan and Afghanistan. This approach lost its relevance after the death of Richard C Holbrooke who in the words of Ahmed Rashid was ‘devoted to creating a political strategy to underpin American policy-making.’

The United States as on date has largely delinked Pakistan from its Afghanistan policy. It is gearing up for holding talks directly with Taliban. There are also reports about US advancing withdrawal of its troops from rugged terrains of Afghanistan.  Pakistan has also intensified its efforts for building bridges with Afghanistan government. The recent visit of Pakistan Foreign Minister Hina Rabani to Kabul seems of much more significance. It seems that in coming months Pakistan will be more concerned about the developments in Afghanistan and will be endeavoring hard to safeguard its interests in Afghanistan. On the other hand the statement made by US Director of National Intelligence James Clipper before Senate Select Intelligence Committee about India-China relations do not portend well for the region.

In this emerging scenario in the region, the United States appointing a Kashmir expert in its embassy for analyzing developments in the state and their bearings on the region largely indicates that Kashmir   once again will be catapulting to centre stage as an important issue.

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