The Filter Coffee

Foreign policy, strategic affairs, defense and governance

All I want for Christmas is Kashmir

Solving a 63 year old problem to solve an 8 year old problem is no solution

‘Tis the season of giving and Jeffrey Stern wants India and Pakistan to “give peace a chance” in Kashmir.  Jeffrey is the international engagement manager at the National Constitution Center and has apparently spent much of the last two years traveling around South Asia.

But his sojourn to South Asia has left him none the wiser on matters relating to the Kashmir issue.  Jeffrey presents the same tired, blitheringly idiotic arguments on Kashmir that many before him have presented.  There are two main themes in his article — first, he highlights what he calls “Wahhabism…sweeping through the valley..” and second, draws attention to the need to “resolve” Kashmir so that Pakistan can begin to be the “partner the US needs to confront al Qaeda and its allies..”

During his field trip to Kashmir, Jeffrey based his understanding of the conflict and of the people’s aspirations by speaking with “former militants” and separatists, most prominently Maulala Shaukat Shah of the Jamiat-e-Ahl-e-Hadees. Most in India will remember Shah as central to the uproar on the Amarnath Shrine Board last year.  By any measure, the Jamiat plays a prominent role in Kashmir, which has a support base of 1.5 million followers and is patron to 600 mosques and 150 schools.

But by focusing almost entirely on the Jamiat, Jeffrey has either intentionally excluded other actors in what is a complex and sensitive issue, or has been entirely blindsided by them. Although the situation in J&K remains fluid, developments are afoot outside the realm of the Jamiat that could fundamentally alter the dynamics of the issue.

Quietly, Manmohan Singh’s government has proceeded with back-channel talks with moderate members of the Hurriyat, with Mirwaiz Umar Farooq clearly emerging as the international face of the Hurriyat contingent for talks.

These talks come at an advantageous time  for India.  Despite an increase in ceasefire violations by Pakistan, terrorism in J&K is at a five year low.  The insurgency is not what it once was. The people of Kashmir defied separatists’ calls and militants’ threats to vote in the state elections in December 2008 (Voter turnout was 62%, with 55% in Kashmir Valley. Contrast this against the 42% voter turnout in Mumbai, in the country’s first general elections post-26/11).  India today, is able to dedicate political and economic bandwidth on the Kashmir issue.

Manmohan Singh’s government is in the process of implementing a series of confidence building measures to signal its intent at quiet diplomacy. Chief among these include amendments to the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSP) and withdrawal of some para-military forces from the state, with gradual transfer of responsibilities to state police.

But importantly, significant progress on talks with separatists and consequent reorganization of Centre-J&K relations are happening at a time when Pakistan is mired in conflict and is unable to dedicate sufficient bandwidth to stall or retard such progress.  If and when the time does come for an Indo-Pak “settlement” on the Kashmir issue, Pakistan may not find itself in a very advantageous bargaining position.

There is clearly more at work in Kashmir than Jeffrey knows about or wants you to believe.  His second issue dealt with resolving Kashmir to allow Pakistan to focus on al Qaeda. Readers of The Filter Coffee will know how poorly conceived this idea is. Kashmir is only a symptom of the myriad complexes the Pakistani state suffers from vis-a-vis India, which kinder folks attribute to the postpartum trauma of Partition.

Jeffrey writes:

Broadening [the definition of mutual US-Pak trust] will mean a holistic approach to Pakistan, acknowledging that Taliban militancy on the border with Afghanistan is not Pakistan’s most pressing concern even if it is the United States’. It will mean acknowledging Pakistan’s grievances with India.

Redefining the relationship will mean moving towards a workable resolution to Kashmir. Only then can Pakistan begin to be the partner the U.S. needs to confront al Qaeda and its allies, buttress Western efforts in Afghanistan, and to keep Kashmir itself from exploding.

In other words, Jeffrey wants Obama to solve a 63 year old problem as quickly as possible so that he can spend  the next two years trying to solve an 8 year old problem. Jeffrey’s ideas on resolving Kashmir confront the same cul-de-sac as other such prescriptions — there is no mention of just how Obama or anyone else can go about “resolving” Kashmir.

Mercifully, for every Jeffrey Stern there are the Lisa Curtises and Stephen Cohens who try to keep insanity at bay. The United States would do well not to muck around in Kashmir. Despite being impoverished and politically and economically stunted for decades after independence, India managed to stave off international pressure on entering into disadvantageous compromises on Kashmir or readjusting its borders along the LoC with Pakistan.

Today, given its economic and political leverage in the world, India acquiescing to such a compromise is even more unlikely. The United States will need to very carefully consider the negative repercussions of  any overt involvement in the dispute on the future of the Indo-US strategic partnership.

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Filed under: Af-Pak, Al Qaeda, America, Barack Obama, Foreign Policy, India, Kashmir, Line of Control, Pakistan, World, , , , , , , , , , , , ,

4 Responses

  1. Chandra says:

    I like your title…ha…ha

  2. SR Murthy says:

    “Only then can Pakistan begin to be the partner the U.S. needs to confront al Qaeda and its allies, buttress Western efforts in Afghanistan,”

    Is Mr. Jeffrey suffering from an early onset of Amnesia or does he think he is Bill Murray in “Groundhog Day”?

    A year ago: After 26/11, when Indians were in mourning, Pakistan was creating a furore about India about to attack Pakistan. But, to the contrary, in order to facilitate Pakistan’s cooperation with the USA, India has been removing troops in J&K since 26/11, which was supposed to get Pakistan’s cooperation with the USA.

    Today: Pakistan just refused to give visas to US officials, and India has still be keeping temperatures low. And the considered “expert advice” of Mr. Jeffrey is to claim that India needs to lower the temperature further in order to get Pakistan to cooperate. Is that the conclusion he can draw from the fact that India already lowering temperatures has not helped the US reach its objective. So now Indians have to really wonder why is the USA keeping Pakistan and its terrorists on life support — is financing founts of terrorism like Pakistan supposed to be a solution to the “war on terror”?

    Does Mr. Jeffrey think Indians have an equally short memory or lack of common sense like him and his American compatriots? Is he paying attention to the lack of any action at all on Pakistan’s part to really tackle islamic extremism in Pak-Af?

  3. thefiltercoffee says:

    @SR Murthy: The Obama Administration has modeled its philosophy on realism; let’s hope it prevails with regard to the India-Pakistan equation. India doesn’t need to do much more to accommodate US sensitivities or Pakistan’s neuralgia vis-a-vis India.

  4. gp65 says:

    Jeffrey and people like him forget that Obama is the President of USA not India and he has little leverage to force India to give up territory in Kashmir. After all that is the only ‘resolution ‘ that would satisfy Pakistan is it not? My guess is that this notion was initially made by Obama as a campaign statement and clearly knows better now and is not pursuing that approach.

    Anyway, how can you solve a problem that does not even have an agreed problem definition that is agreed to by the stakeholders?

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