Obama Should Take His Eyes Off Kashmir

The United States should not insist on a resolution of India-Pakistan disputes rather allow India to conduct its own policy.

President Barack Obama meets with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh during their bilateral meeting at the White House in Washington DC, November 24, 2009
President Barack Obama meets with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh during their bilateral meeting at the White House in Washington DC, November 24, 2009 (White House/Pete Souza)

A recurring theme in the Obama Administration’s attitude toward exiting Afghanistan seems to be mollifying Pakistan by pushing India to resolve the Kashmir issue.

Earlier this year, The Wall Street Journal reported that the administration had urged India to resolve its disputes with neighboring Pakistan in order to advance “American goals in the region.” The Times of India confirmed this week that President Barack Obama plans to ask India to resolve the Kashmir issue as a priority in return for American support for its bid to permanent membership of the United Nations Security Council.

Most disturbing about this attitude is that the White House appears to imply that resolution of the Kashmir and related border issues has somehow been thwarted by India. This would ignore the numerous unilateral gestures of peace made by India; the regular ceasefire violations perpetrated by Pakistan along the line of control and the ongoing efforts of the Pakistani intelligence services to wage a proxy war against India by supporting Taliban insurgents and mujahideen along the border with Afghanistan.

The present administration seems to believe that India doesn’t understand the importance and necessity of having a stable and peaceful Pakistan on its western frontier. “Why can’t we have straightforward talks with India on why a stable Pakistan is crucial?” the president is reported as musing in the recently released volume Obama’s Wars by Bob Woodward. “India is moving toward a higher place in its global posture,” he is to have said. “A stable Pakistan would help.”

It is disheartening to witness such naiveté on the part of President Obama. India understands what a nuisance Pakistan is to its prosperity and ambitions of global power. If it could, it would have resolved the Kashmir issue by now. But an equally favorable response from Pakistan is crucial for any peace agreement.

But Pakistan’s foreign policy has been India-hate-centric and there is no reason for that to change any time soon. To expect it to cooperate and help the United States in Afghanistan in return for American mediation in Kashmir is foolish. Pakistan is unlikely to be satisfied with anything less than integration of the whole Jammu and Kashmir region. India would never allow that. Moreover, Pakistan’s interests do not sufficient align with those of the United States to allow is to support the War on Terror unequivocally. Its interests are better served by pledging loyalty to the Taliban and related tribes.

Equally important to understanding the Kashmir issue is India’s refusal to internationalize it. Even the prospect of a permanent Security Council seat probably wouldn’t change this position. India’s bid for permanent membership has merit in its own right and should not be held hostage to a resolution of the Kashmir dispute, particularly when it isn’t India that is holding up things.

President Obama should revisit his Afghan strategy if the resolution of Kashmir and consequent potential support from Pakistan are among its fundamental criteria for success. Both are unlikely to transpire.

He should also reconsider his administration’s attitude toward India. That it hasn’t objected vehemently to the United States’ planned exit from Afghanistan does not mean that it agrees with these plans. Nor does it mean that Washington can dictate to India what its foreign policy objectives and priorities should be. If the India-Pakistan conflict is an inconvenience for the United States, the burden of responsibility should not be placed on India’s shoulders alone. It is high time that the United States stop trying to mollify Pakistan in the hope that it will cooperate. Pakistan has mastered the art of extorting aid and assistance to fill its coffers, then do as it pleases. There is no reason for this attitude to change unless a fundamental power shift occurs in Islamabad.

When President Obama visits India this November, the two countries should deliberate upon what can be done in Afghanistan irrespective of Pakistan’s intentions. Obama and his Indian counterpart, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh should resolve to fight terrorism within their own borders — the epicenter of which happens to be Pakistan. They should look at trade policies in the wake of recent protectionist measures enacted in the United States and discuss the full implementation of the civilian nuclear deal at the earliest.

There are, in conclusion, a lot of things that the president can and has to talk about during his trip to India, and they need not include a resolution to the Kashmir issue as means to the American withdrawal from Afghanistan.

Comments

  • i want to convey to obama and the whole world that the struggle for freedom of kashmir till its achievement will continue even if nobody will support the freedom struggle of kashmiris, even pakistan and indias brutal face will come to surface which claims to be worlds largest democracy and has ignored the wordls longest standing dispute, and has killed more than 1 million people with no mercy and is continuing to do so to supress the freedom movement, inshaAllah we will achieve for what we r striving

  • Imagine that Tuesday’s edition of the New York Times, a newspaper which has spearheaded the media propaganda campaign in support of the US-NATO war against Yugoslavia, carried an editorial written along the lines of the following excerpts:
    “Serbia and the United States have long engaged in cycles of confrontation and rapprochement, with war and threats of war followed by pledges of cooperation. Now the latest promises of peace have yielded to the worst fighting in decades. The provocation is the presence of well-armed Islamic militants holding mountainous positions on Serbian territory, seeking independence for Kosovo, Serbia’s only Muslim-dominated state. Serbia, which has tried bombing and shelling to dislodge them, is rightly demanding that the United States help in removing the guerrillas as the first step toward defusing the current crisis….
    “Past uprisings in Kosovo have drawn in hundreds of thousands of Serbian troops and cost thousands of lives. Serbia says that the US has aided the insurgents. The US says it has merely supplied ‘moral support’ to indigenous ‘freedom fighters’….
    “In recent years, Serbia has been lamentably slow in recognizing that it could not crush the Muslim rebellion in Kosovo by force alone. But the intervention of militants this spring has been widely condemned as a provocation by the US….
    “Serbia has so far shown commendable restraint, but warns that time is running out. If the militants are not removed, Serbia says, it fears being unable to get supplies to places that need them before the next snowfall in August. Frustrated by its failure to dislodge the militants, Serbia might be tempted to send troops into Albanian territory. That would be a serious escalation, all the more worrisome because both countries possess nuclear weapons.
    “No rapprochement can occur without some sort of a political resolution of Kosovo’s status. Any such solution would probably have to be a creative mixture of self-government for the Kosovans with some kind of political association with both Serbia and perhaps Albania. But no solution can be achieved under the threat of military action.”
    This commentary did not, of course, appear in yesterday’s Times. But the exact words, except for the names of the countries, did appear. The editorial was headlined “Dangerous Escalation in Kashmir.” We have merely substituted Kosovo for Kashmir, Serbia for India, and the United States (or Albania) for Pakistan.
    There is an obvious conclusion to be drawn from this exercise. The pronouncements of the Times —and by extension, the commentary which appears throughout the corporate-controlled American media—do not arise from an analysis based on objective standards which have universal applicability. What the Times damns in Kosovo—the attempt by a regional power to maintain its authority against a secessionist movement armed and backed from outside—it comments on sympathetically in Kashmir.
    The critical—but unstated—factor is the attitude of the US government and Wall Street to the regional power. In Kosovo, Serbia has been regarded as an obstacle by Washington. Hence the demonization of Milosevic by the media and his indictment by the UN war crimes tribunal. In Kashmir, the US government is cultivating relations with both Pakistan and India. In the decade since the end of the Cold War, during which Pakistan was a US ally and India was aligned with the Soviet Union, India has embraced the US economic agenda and opened up its economy to foreign capital. The US has avoided provoking either side in the Kashmir dispute, if anything, tilting slightly towards India.
    As a consequence, the editorialists of the Times are compelled to make a much more careful and sober estimation of the conflict in Kashmir, instead of engaging in the tub-thumping moralism which has characterized their commentary on Kosovo.
    Under other circumstances, Indian Prime Minister Vajpayee could have found his mug shot on US magazine covers while the editorial pages of the Times, the Washington Post, etc., thundered about the necessity for the “international community” to halt the atrocities being committed by Indian troops in Kashmir, and the Pentagon drew up lists of bombing targets in Delhi, Bombay and Calcutta.
    Or, in the event the CIA and Pentagon adopted a pro-Indian position, the American media would highlight alleged connections between Pakistan and Osama bin-Laden; guerrillas previously depicted as “freedom fighters” would be transformed into “terrorists;” and the cruise missiles would be targeted against Lahore and Karachi.
    The launching of air strikes against a nuclear-armed India or Pakistan is not yet on the Pentagon’s agenda. But far more have died in Kashmir over the past five years than were killed in Kosovo before American bombs began to fall. India claims sovereignty over Kashmir and rejects any international intervention in the conflict. Yugoslavia took a similar position on Kosovo, until the bombing.
    On what basis of international law can the New York Times uphold India’s actions in Kashmir, while condemning Yugoslavia’s actions in Kosovo? How can the Times insist that in Kashmir, “No solution can be achieved under the threat of military action,” while in Kosovo, all-out air war and military occupation are the solution. We live in an age where such glaring and obvious contradictions, both in the formulation of US foreign policy and its justification in the American media, go essentially unchallenged.

  • Manasi,

    Good write-up. You have made some fine points/observations with which most well-read people would fully agree. Try to get some major paper print this in a guest column (WSJ/LA Times/NYT). Good luck.

  • India has always try to supress the raising voice of people against them. Kashmir was never a part of india and it cant be. Have we all forgot the history how Mr sheik abdulla took money from india and sold kashmir. We all know what india did in elections.
    Whole world is sleeping as is UNO. 120 youth where murdered by india so called army.
    All kashmiri people need freedom from india.

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