Kashmir and the US Priorities in the Region

The United States’ interests in the South Asian region have often played as the determining factor in its shifty policy on Kashmir dispute. Brief survey of Washington’s priorities in the region and India’s role in the eyes of United States will help in understanding US approach of ‘crisis management’ vis-à-vis Kashmir. Key US priority-list could be: containment of ‘terrorism, denouncing the religious fundamentalism, curbing the nuclear proliferation, expanding economy and trade, promoting democracy, Pressing for human rights particularly the women rights and containment of China. Needless to mention that on almost all the above-mentioned points India and US echo the same concerns. Moreover with shared values like democracy and, above all, keeping in view the economic agenda, the US considers India as: a strategic and emerging economic partner. To the United States, India – with its billion-plus population, democratic institution and values, steadily growing economy, and substantial defense establishment – represents a partner of great value. A partner in combating terrorism and, irrespective of the past differences on nuclear issues, shares US concerns about preventing the further spread of weapons of mass destruction (WMD).Indian-Americans have started playing an active role in US political life and become significant financial contributors to election campaigns. A thin but a widespread lobby of US elite take this seriously and is in favor of erecting India as regional rival to China.

Conversely, Pakistan is being seen as one of the most complex political challenge that the United States faces anywhere in the world today. US demands actions against Kashmiri freedom fighter and link with Kashmiri resistant is not acceptable to the United States particularly after 9/11. While Musharraf (has taken a number of steps in this direction but he) and his Pakistan army colleagues (are considered doing) favor to a hard-line policy on Kashmir and believe that they need the militants to maintain pressure on India. It is alleged that Musharraf has been unwilling (or unable) to rein in ‘Jihadis’ despite his promise to stop infiltration across the Line of Control in Kashmir permanently. Also, Pakistan is charged as being involved in leakage of sensitive nuclear technology and material. In the circumstances, Pakistan’s perception of India as an enemy of state cannot be subscribed to by the US. These factors show that though Washington enjoys Islamabad’s support in the war against terrorism but their differences on various issues are obvious and fundamental. The American perceptions of what is best for Islamabad and particularly its security and its commitment with Kashmir cause is different then Pakistan.

It is a hard reality that the Kashmir issue has been of little impact on the policy formulation in Washington. There is no powerful Kashmiri lobby in the United States. Unlike United Kingdom, US have no legacy or guilt for making unjust decisions with regard to Kashmir. The dispute poses no threat to the US or its allies in any manner (like the Iraqi threat to Israel). Likewise, it neither offers economic benefits nor it has extraordinary geo-strategic significance, thus totally reducing its importance for US. Although, US has deep interest in India and Pakistan but not to the extent where Washington would put its energy, cash and diplomacy on the line to settle the Kashmir dispute. At the same time, US is skeptical about its role and finally the results. The American policy makers ask: Would any Kashmir resolution backed by Washington be of any significance?

Although both India and Pakistan enjoy good relations with Washington but lack of trust limits both the South Asian nations’ ties with the world’s sole superpower. Pakistan and India both have always been skeptical about America’s intentions and blame her for being partisan. Some Indian commentators believe that US cannot be an impartial player as it is heavily tilted towards Islamabad. Similarly, Islamabad suspects that the United States has been complacent regarding India’s coercive diplomacy since December 2001.

Understandably, US is not interested to start a doomed-to-fail campaign which can even create more problems for Washington in South Asia. Particularly, its suggestions and activities inside Kashmir alienating Pakistanis and they believe that US prescriptions to Kashmir solution are adverse to Pakistan’s interests and it does not entertain the wishes of the Kashmiri people, the main stakeholder and principle victims of the conflict.

The current global political setting clearly suggests that United States has almost adopted single track policy i.e. to combat terrorism all over the world for which it is engaged in Afghanistan, Iraq and threatening Iran and other countries. Therefore, US would not focus on any other regional or global issue that may distract world attention from the war against terrorism.

Washington regards global non-proliferation regime as an important policy objective. It defused the Kargil crisis and the post-December 2001 confrontation because it did not want a nuclear confrontation to break out in South Asia. In this backdrop US will only mediate in ways that suit its perceived short-term interests vis-à-vis India and Pakistan, as distinct from the interests of the South Asian peoples, or in particular, Kashmiris.

US policy in foreseeable future will be identical to its present approach of low-level engagement with both countries. Washington will continue its efforts to promote dialogue between India and Pakistan along with the Kashmiri leadership. It is not expected to offer any kind of road map or solution for settlement.

The main interest of United States will remain to be maintenance of the status quo. Internal autonomy, intra-Kashmir dialogue and free movement of Kashmiris would be the main talking points but without any interest in promoting Kashmiris’ right of self-determination or for that matter an independent state. Likewise, it seems that US would encourage internal political process and the Mufti Sayeed government in held Kashmir. In fact, Washington considers him a positive man moving on a right path.

Armed struggle has become a litmus test for US to prove that its war against terrorism is based on the principle of no to any kind of violence. Moreover, to keep India satisfied it would like to give an image that its policies are evenhanded while dealing with terrorism worldwide. The major characteristic of US Kashmir policy has been invariably incoherent attention to this problem and there is no reason to expect any imminent change in it in foreseeable future.

There is likelihood that US through its above given policy may be in position to keep India and Pakistan from war, but the region as a whole shall not be safe or stay in peace for a longer time. The real challenge before post-cold war USA is immense; it has to show to the world community that it is interested in real peace and not merely interested in its temporary ambitions. The situation demands concerted response. Regarding Kashmir, all players have to recognize two things: one, there is no military solution to the problem, whatever be the justifications or compulsions that have led to the militarization of the scene. Sooner or later a political solution has to be worked out. Second, it is the people who are the final arbiter and their verdict must be allowed to be pronounced and accepted by all, irrespective of India’s and Pakistan’s concerns and interests.