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'US should encourage India to be more flexible on Kashmir'

Last updated on: February 26, 2011 02:34 IST
The other critical issue for American diplomacy to address is the underlying problem that drives Pakistan's relationship with terror: India and Kashmir. The Pakistani state and its army have been obsessed with India since its creation in 1947.

The ISI built much of the modern jihadist infrastructure in South Asia precisely to fight India asymmetrically, either directly in Kashmir or to defend Pakistan's strategic depth in Afghanistan.

From the Pakistani perspective, an optimal resolution of Kashmir would be a union of the province, or at least the Muslim-dominated valley of Kashmir and the capital of Srinagar, with Pakistan. Once Kashmir was 'reunited' with Pakistan, there would be no need for nuclear weapons or for a jihadist option to compel Indian withdrawal from the valley.

This is precisely the outcome that Pakistani leaders have in mind when they urge American leaders to devote diplomatic and political energy to the Kashmir issue.

Of course, it is a completely unrealistic scenario. India has made it clear that it will not withdraw from Kashmir. On the contrary, India argues it has already made a major concession by de facto accepting the partition of the state between itself, Pakistan, and China.

India is probably prepared to accept the Line of Control, in effect the cease-fire line of 1948, as the ultimate border with Pakistan, but not a fundamental redrawing of borders to put the valley under Pakistan's sovereignty. There is a way to resolve the Kashmir problem more realistically. The basis for such an approach would be to use the Indo-Pakistani bilateral dialogue. That dialogue has already produced a series of confidence-building measures between the two countries, reopening transportation links, setting up hot lines between military commands, and holding periodic discussions at the foreign secretary level on all the issues that divide the two.

Unfortunately, the dialogue has not seriously addressed the Kashmir issue because of the significant gulf between the two parties and India's refusal to negotiate while still a target of terrorist attacks planned and organised in Pakistan. But the two have gone far in the back-channel talks on how to resolve Kashmir.

The United States has long been reluctant to engage more actively in the Kashmir dispute in light of the Indian posture that outside intervention is unwarranted and that Kashmir is a purely bilateral issue. Faced with the likelihood of Indian rejection of outside intervention, American diplomacy has put the Kashmir problem in the 'too hard' category and left it to simmer. The results are all too predictable. The Kashmir issue periodically boils over, and the United States and the international community have to step in to try to prevent a full-scale war. This was the case during the Kargil crisis in 1999, after the terrorist attack on the Indian parliament in December 2001, and again in 2002 when India mobilised its army for war on the Pakistani border.

A unique opportunity for quiet American diplomacy to help advance the Kashmir issue to a better, more stable solution may exist now. The US-India nuclear deal has created a more stable and enduring basis for relations between the two countries than at any time in their history. The deal removes the central obstacle to closer strategic ties between Washington and New Delhi — the nuclear proliferation problem, which held back the development of their relationship for two decades.

In the new era of US-Indian strategic partnership, Washington should quietly but forcefully encourage New Delhi to be more flexible on Kashmir. It is clearly in the American interest to try to defuse a lingering conflict that has generated global terrorism and repeatedly threatened to create a full-scale military confrontation on the subcontinent. It is also in India's interest to find a solution to a conflict that has gone on too long. Since the Kargil war in 1999, the Indians have been more open to an American role in Kashmir because they sense Washington is fundamentally in favor of a resolution to maintain the status quo, which favors India.

The key will be whether the United States can make clear to Pakistan that its red lines about terror are real, especially the red line on Lashkar-e-Tayiba. If Prime Minister Singh can see real evidence of LeT being broken up and dismantled in Pakistan, then he can reenter and advance the back channel with the political clout to secure a peace breakthrough.

The United States currently has better relations with both India and Pakistan than at any other time in the past several decades. Its rapprochement with India, begun by President Clinton and advanced by President Bush, is now supported by an almost unique bipartisan consensus in the American foreign policy establishment and Congress.

President Obama has already hosted Singh at the White House for a state dinner and traveled to New Delhi in November 2010. At the same time, the sanctions that poisoned US-Pakistani ties for decades have been removed by new legislation passed with bipartisan support. Obama has begun a strategic partnership dialogue with Islamabad. It is a unique and propitious moment.

A Kashmir solution would have to be structured around a formula for making the Line of Control both a permanent and normal international border (perhaps with some minor modifications) and a permeable frontier between the two parts of Kashmir so that the Kashmiri people could live more normal lives. A special condominium might be created to allow the two constituencies to work together on issues specific to the region, such as transportation, the environment, sports, and tourism. The two currencies of India and Pakistan could become legal tender on both sides of the border, for example, an idea recently floated in India.

Given the history of mistrust that pervades both sides, the two states are unlikely to be able to reach such an agreement on their own. A quiet American effort led by the President to promote a solution is probably essential to move the parties toward an agreement. This should not be a formal, public initiative--discretion and privacy are essential. I urged Obama to do just this on Air Force One and in the strategic review.

Resolution of the Kashmiri issue would go a long way toward making Pakistan a more normal state and one less preoccupied with India. It would also remove a major rationale for the army's disproportionate role in Pakistan's national security affairs. That in turn would help to ensure the survival of genuine civilian democratic rule in the country. A resolution of the major outstanding issue between Islamabad and New Delhi would reduce the arms race between them and the risk of nuclear conflict.

With the desire to fight asymmetric warfare against India eliminated, Pakistan would also be discouraged from making alliances with the Taliban, Lashkar-e-Tayiba, and Al Qaeda. Former ambassador Bill Milam, a seasoned South Asia hand, has insightfully stressed that the "India-Centricity of the Pakistani mindset is the most important factor and variable" in the future of the country.

Such an agreement would not resolve all the tensions between the two neighbors or end the problem of the Taliban in Afghanistan. But more than anything else, it would set the stage for a different era in the subcontinent and for more productive interaction between the international community and Pakistan. It could set the stage for a genuine rapprochement between India and Pakistan and nurture trade and economic interaction that could transform the subcontinent for the better. This is the big idea America needs to promote in South Asia.

Excerpted with the author's permission from Bruce Reidel's book, Deadly Embrace: Pakistan, America and the Future of Global Jihad, Brookings Institution Press, Washington, DC

Bruce Reidel