American Policy and Kashmir Dispute Print
Written by Dr. Vijay K. Sazawal   
Thursday, 26 July 2012 00:00

[From Rising Kashmir]: The United States of America (U.S.) and India held their 3rd Bilateral Strategic Dialogue on June 13, 2012 in Washington, DC. As a customary practice, most think tanks in the town like the Center for Strategic & International Studies (CSIS), the Brookings Institution, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (CEIP), and others held open forums to discuss the state of bilateral relationship between the U.S. and India, including its positive achievements and major disappointments. In all such meetings, a very senior U.S. diplomat or an official would make a presentation, followed by a question and answer (Q&A) session. There were other presentations as well from South Asia experts. I was invited to such meetings and attended most of them.


I made an interesting observation at these meetings organized at various think tanks. Even though there was no mention of “Kashmir” in any of the lectures given by either U.S. officials or third party experts, in every meeting either a Pakistani diplomat or a Pakistani journalist in attendance raised the issue of Kashmir in one form or the other. In each case, the responding official would diplomatically respond without ever saying the word “Kashmir” in his or her reply, but would dwell on the broader context of thorny issues (including trust deficit) between India and Pakistan.
The practice by Pakistani diplomats and journalists to make a point about Kashmir during a Q&A session with U.S. officials is an old one. The response by the foreign official, irrespective of whether anything significant is said or not, becomes immediate news in Kashmir and Pakistan, re-energizing despondent believers with new hope that Kashmir continues to be an international issue. This practice was curtailed during the time Haqqani was the Pakistani Ambassador, but seems to have been revived by the new Ambassador Shehrbano “Sherry” Rehman.

There are two key points that are vital in understanding the U.S. approach to the Kashmir dispute. First, the U.S. does recognize that it is an international issue, and the final closure will require the endorsement of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), leading to the removal of the U.N. Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan (UNMOGIP) from both sides of the Ceasefire line. This fact has not changed and I do not know why anyone would scour world media daily to catch snippets on Kashmir in order to reassure their psyche that Kashmir issue is still an international issue, when in fact that status has neither changed nor has been disputed by the major powers.

The second point, though, is even more important. The U.S. position on resolving the Kashmir issue has changed over the years. This change is neither dramatic nor topsy-turvy; it is merely a slow evolution that was inevitable given the level of knowledge and the depth of comprehension within the U.S. national security apparatus that existed about the dispute in 1947-1948 as compared to today, as well as by growing stature of the bilateral relationship between the U.S. India. Garnishing that deep chasm between the past and the present official views of the U.S. (and all western major powers) towards the Kashmir issue are changes that have taken place within Pakistan before and after the “9/11” attacks, which end up reinforcing the core reasons that led to a change in the U.S. policy.

So, it should not surprise anyone when President Obama repeated what has been a long standing bipartisan (meaning both Democrats and Republican governments share the same) point of view that the Kashmir issue should be resolved bilaterally by India and Pakistan. It has diminished neither the nature of the issue nor its ramifications, but it has condensed possible options for the final solution of the issue.

Pakistani analysts and separatists in Kashmir have expressed disappointment over President Obama’s statement, some going as far as to say that it was a surprise. But American policy on this issue has not changed for decades now. Even in the “best case scenario,” where Pakistan’s relationship with the West improves to its highest potential again and the U.S. policy on Kashmir “tilts” towards Pakistan, some options on Kashmir are gone for good.

For example, the possibility of an “Independent Kashmir” or an “Independent Jammu & Kashmir” is a thing of the past. This option was not explicit in the U.N. Security Resolutions of 1948, but there was a time during the Cold War when the U.S. (and the U.K.) toyed with such an idea. The “Third Option,” as it was being called, died with the demise of the Soviet Union. Not only did Kashmir lose its strategic significance in the post-Soviet era, but the speed and success with which militant Islam came to fill in the vacuum created by receding communism, made even the Chinese apprehensive about the “Third Option,” given the proximity of Kashmir to their volatile Xinjiang region. So while the “Third Option” has many supporters in Kashmir (some would argue a majority of residents in the valley), it has no international support from the world community that matters. In so far as the U.N. Resolutions go, a line of succeeding Secretary Generals of the U.N. in the last few decades have reiterated over and over again that U.N. Resolutions on Kashmir cannot be implemented without the consent of both India and Pakistan, and are not enforceable without approval from the two countries. So calling for “international intervention” is basically a dead end today. No wonder many separatists in the valley admit that the international community does not care.

Today, all major powers echo the statement made by President Obama that the Kashmir dispute can only be resolved by the two countries themselves. In some ways, this situation represents progress towards resolution that Kashmiris have been seeking, though for some (as we have noted previously) may not share that point of view. There are two political schools of thought in the U.S. on how to proceed in the future, given that everyone in authority – from politicians to bureaucrats to non-governmental experts – generally agree that: (a) the resolution of the issue should be a matter of highest priority between India and Pakistan, (b) the resolution will not happen without building trust and creating friendly conditions between the two countries, and (c) people of Jammu and Kashmir should be treated with dignity and fairness in the process of achieving the final resolution of the issue.

The first school of thought has evolved from traditional diplomatic community within the U.S. where many of them were part of the policy- making or contributed to the policy-making represented by the “third option.” Even though these people now realize that an independent Kashmir is unfeasible, they nevertheless see possibilities where perhaps one region (the valley) could have a different political dispensation than other regions of the State. Nevertheless, even this group believes today that the division of the territory of the princely state of Jammu and Kashmir should be formalized promptly, with the line of control (LOC) becoming the international border between India and Pakistan. There are a few proposals on the table on how to proceed with providing regional personality to the Kashmir valley and even making the international border in J&K as open as possible, but none of that is likely to happen until the border issue has been settled permanently.

The second school of American thought is of more recent origin having less connectivity with the past history of Kashmir (that has yielded practically no political movement towards the resolution of the dispute in the last 65 years), and more in tune with meeting public aspirations for democracy and justice in a world that is becoming increasingly complex and inter-dependent. This school of American thought has evolved from American experiences in the Middle East, Afghanistan and Pakistan, putting emphasis on quality of local governance, human rights, ethnic pluralism, law and order, and social justice, which provide key dimensions for judging how public aspirations are being met.

This school of thought considers the Indian approach to the Kashmir dispute to be pragmatic, while not perfect, that could lead to an eventual resolution of the issue. In fact, other major world powers – including China (with some reluctance and reservations) – also share a similar point of view.

American policy makers and political experts, who are taking a fresh look at the Kashmir dispute, find following factors are inhibiting an early resolution of the Kashmir dispute:
• The empowered class (“elites”) in J&K have compelling interests in preserving the political status quo
• India is unlikely to hasten any Kashmir specific talks until it gets some signal from Pakistan that it is willing to accept the LOC as the international boundary
• Pakistan is unlikely to provide for local governance, ethnic pluralism and social justice in their region of Jammu and Kashmir that would meet the regional criteria for dignity and equality.

At least one proposal is evolving where some or all of these inhibitors are being addressed.

In summary, the Obama statement is a reaffirmation of a long standing position of the United States. The Kashmir dispute has dropped from the radar screens of the U.S. as a non-priority issue. While the U.S. Government has kept its hands off the matter, policy analysts outside of the government have maintained some interest. The growing trend recently has been to encourage both India and Pakistan to settle the dispute taking into consideration urgent needs for democracy, peace and justice on both sides of the LOC.