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.