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Don’t feed the Cookie Monster

Forget Pakistan and move on.

I came across this article in Foreign Policy by Teresita and Howard Schaffer entitled “Afghanistan, Pakistan and Kashmir: A grand bargain?”  Ambassadors Teresita and Howard Schaffer are true paragons of the U.S. foreign policy community and have extensive experience in the subcontinent (indeed, Mrs. Schaffer is fluent in Hindi and Urdu).  However, and as someone with tremendous respect for their contributions, I found some of  the recommendations in the article surprising.

The article calls for a review of U.S. strategic options with Pakistan and postulates a “grand bargain,” which essentially involves “giving” Pakistan what it wants in Afghanistan, but on two pre-conditions: first, making Pakistan responsible for preventing terrorism emanating from Afghanistan (yes, only Afghanistan), and second, getting Pakistan to agree on a settlement on Kashmir on the present geopolitical lines.  In all fairness, the article both recognizes the challenges inherent in such a plan, and accepts that the likelihood  of such a bargain coming to fruition is rather low.  However, there are elements in this “grand bargain” that I find either disturbing or infeasible.

The first element of this “grand bargain” involves accepting Pakistani hegemony in Afghanistan. Pakistan, not the civil administration in Afghanistan, will be empowered to undertake negotiations between Kabul and “whatever elements of the Taliban” to work towards a post-war settlement.  The article also envisages the U.S. accepting Pakistan’s demand of eliminating Indian involvement in Afghanistan.  Such logic should greatly concern New Delhi, which recently signed a “strategic partnership” with Afghanistan involving an enhancement of bilateral ties in education, economics and security. This article fails to explain why Afghanistan or India would ever entertain this, and how the U.S. and Pakistan feel they are in a position to transact such an arrangement without resistance from India and Afghanistan.

Next, in return for this “grand bargain,” the article recommends that the U.S. warn Pakistan that it would be held responsible for any act of terror originating from Afghanistan or Pakistan. The article doesn’t delve any further into how this fete is to be accomplished.  The Pakistanis have acted with an ascending sense of impunity in conducting sub-conventional operations in a region already dominated by U.S. forces.  If the U.S.’s strategy with respect to Pakistan’s proclivity for terror has failed to yield tangible results thus far, what other tools does the U.S. suppose it has to force Rawalpindi into compliance? And by the way, has the U.S. held anyone responsible for the discovery of Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad, Pakistan this past May?

The third component of this bargain pertains to Kashmir. According to the article, the U.S. would “tell” Pakistan that it would publicly call for a settlement on Kashmir based on existing demarcations along the LoC and “give India advance notice” of the announcement.

Advance notice! One wonders if the U.S. thinks that it is in a position to orchestrate such a grand settlement especially at a time when its own power is fading relative to other actors on the global stage.  The U.S. would do well to  imbibe an espresso shot of reality here.  Where is the appetite for such an arrangement in a rabidly anti-India Pakistan?  Pakistan’s political parties created an uproar just last week in  response to the inconsequential issue of granting India the status of “Most Favored Nation.”  For a nation bred on the notion that Kashmir is rightfully theirs, any compromise on the issue will elicit a response that Rawalpindi and Islamabad will be incapable of dealing with.

And while India in very broad terms would like a settlement based on turning the LoC into a permanent border, it is in no particular hurry to make the move.  India today is focused on restoring relative peace to Jammu & Kashmir; to that end, it has encouraged dialog between the Centre and political parties of all hues in the Valley.  However, an external reconciliation of Jammu & Kashmir is just not a priority.

The weak coalition in New Delhi does not have the political capital necessary to conclude on such a significant transaction, even if it wanted to.  Simply, Kashmir is a “core issue” for India, and as the U.S. has already realized, is one where India is demonstratively inflexible. If an impoverished India of the past managed to stave off U.S. pressure on Kashmir, what makes the U.S. think that an ascending India will do otherwise?  Any expectation that India will march to the U.S.’s tune merely on being told to do so, is very far removed from reality indeed.

In the end, if the U.S. hopes to move on from its engagement in Afghanistan and ensure that the country does not return to a pre-9/11 jihadi haven, it must stop encouraging Pakistan’s institutional irrationality.  This involves recognizing that U.S. and Pakistan’s interests are divergent, and that Pakistan isn’t the solution, but the problem.  Further, it must realize that even assuming Kashmir is resolved  by some miracle, this will not necessarily mean an end to Pakistan’s obsession with India.

Pakistan’s problem is not Kashmir, it is India and India’s existence.  Pakistan’s quest for “strategic depth” in Afghanistan — an agenda duly entertained in the article — is directly tied to its preoccupation with India. If there were no India, there would be no need for “strategic depth” in Afghanistan.  Therefore, how does India attain peace with Pakistan, when Pakistan’s definition of peace involves India’s dismemberment?  Questions for the Schaffers and the U.S. to ponder over.

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Leave Kashmir behind!

Mr. Obama must focus on moving Indo-US relations forward; bringing up Kashmir is not the way to go about it.

Barack Obama’s first official visit to India approaches.  Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao was in D.C. recently, working with N.S.A. Jim Jones to give shape to Mr. Obama’s India agenda.  The president will, in the course of the next few weeks, receive advice from writers, think-tankers, analysts, and just about everyone else on what his priority list of issues to tackle in India should be.

One item relating to India-Pakistan peace is certainly going to resurface — Kashmir.  More specifically, the “solve Kashmir, and bring about peace between India and Pakistan” mantra will be chanted by many in D.C. in the weeks to come. In an article in The Daily Beast, Bruce Riedel, Senior Fellow for Foreign Policy at Brookings, supported U.S. encouragement of talks between India and Pakistan on settling Kashmir, in the context of the war in Afghanistan.

The Filter Coffee has previously debunked the notion that solving “Kashmir” will bring about peace between India and Pakistan.  I will therefore restrict myself to discussing three points that Mr. Obama should consider in the context of the India visit.

First,  Mr. Obama’s immediate priority must remain the ongoing war in Afghanistan-Pakistan.  Taking focus off Afghanistan-Pakistan and reorienting himself and his administration into resolving a conflict that has been ongoing for 63 years (and will no doubt go on for many more) will not be a wise course of action for an embattled president heading into mid-term elections in 2012.  Stay the course on Afghanistan.

Second, bet on India.  Indo-U.S. relations have taken a backseat since Mr. Obama took office. This is partly due to uncontrollable circumstances and priorities.  But the president has a real opportunity during his India visit to both arrest the slide, and reaffirm that the nature of the Indo-US relationship is indeed strategic, and one between two natural partners.  In this context, India and the U.S. should move forward on strengthening their defense relationship, which U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mullen only recently described as “strong and important.”  The nature of the relationship need not necessarily be restricted to the acquisition of military equipment and transfer of technology.

As two large and diverse democracies, India and the U.S. have a vital interest in securing key sea lines of communication in the Indian Ocean and beyond and ensuring a strategic balance of power in the Asia-Pacific region.  While India and the U.S. already cooperate in patrolling the Malacca straits, changing geopolitical equations will make greater cooperation between India (and indeed, other Asian democracies) and the U.S. in the greater region more critical.

On Afghanistan, as much as the U.S. may have to indulge Pakistan in the interim, its interests lie in denying sanctuary to extremist groups, from where they may attack the U.S. or its interests.  Whether the U.S. likes it or not, this means ensuring that Pakistani influence in Afghanistan is counterbalanced with powers that are averse to the spread of Wahhabi extremism in Asia.  India has an important role to play in this regard and further Indian involvement in Afghanistan must be encouraged.

Next, India and the U.S. should use this opportunity to expand economic ties and address irritants that have affected Indo-US relations (the nuclear liability bill, and outsourcing are chief among them).  Ongoing education reforms in India translate into opportunities for U.S. universities to establish satellite campuses in India.  India and the U.S. should also use this opportunity to move forward on progress made on climate change, both during Secretary Clinton’s visit, and at Copenhagen.

But perhaps most importantly, Mr. Obama will do well not to rake up Kashmir on his visit to India.  Pressuring India at a time when it faces a raging conflict in the Valley is asking it to act at a very sensitive time and from a position of weakness.  If the economically weak India of the past refused to yield to international pressure on Kashmir, the possibility of this happening is even more remote in today’s resurgent India.

Were Mr. Obama to bring up Kashmir in India, two things are nearly certain to happen.  One, India will not budge from its position on the issue, and two, Mr. Obama will risk further hurting Indo-US relations.   Some early signs indicate that the Obama administration is still not in full appreciation of the premium that India attaches to Jammu and Kashmir; dangling carrots will not work and indeed, aren’t called for.  One can only hope that better sense will prevail before the president’s visit.  Where Kashmir is concerned, there is no need for the U.S. to think outside the box.  Stay within the box.  In fact, stay clear of it.

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