Vitiating the equation
New Delhi has rightfully rejected Washington’s recent offer to mediate in its long-standing bilateral conflict with Pakistan.
Hyphenated relationships between countries have certain 'no-go' lines and stated positions that are sacrosanct and beyond debate unless initiated by the respective countries themselves. Often, unsolicited intervention by third parties or nations runs the risk of seeming partial, unnecessarily intrusive, and may further end up undermining the sovereign interests owing to the overenthusiasm of the mediator. One such case is the Indo-Pak equation, wherein, the positions on Kashmir between the two nations has been protracted for long, and the same has acquired complex dimensions beyond the immediate optics and issues concerning the territory itself.
Kashmir is an integral part of India and that has been India's consistent and unwavering line since Independence, whereas, Kashmir has yo-yoed in the Pakistani narrative from seeking independence, to merge with Pakistan, to even a vassal status like that of a 'Pakistan Occupied Kashmir' – however, it plays an invaluable role of a 'unifying' cause for the violently disparate Pakistani mainstream, that keeps alive the chimera of its genealogical, 'two-nation-theory', despite the bloody nose of 'Bangladesh' in 1971. Kashmir sustains the imagination and relevance to the trinity of command structures in the Pakistani establishment – it rationalises the logic of investing in its bloated 'Army Inc.' as it ostensibly prepares for its dangers of war by India; secondly, it acts as an invaluable distractive ploy for the Pakistani politicos of all hues and denominations as they plunder the nation dry; and thirdly, it gives the religious sanctity and moral sustenance to the regressive elements in the clergy to increasingly contextualise a territorial dispute into the convenient colours of a religion. This murky network of relevance for the Pakistani establishment ensures the continuous stoking of cross-border fire in Kashmir, and the same has mutated into a complex terror industry and infrastructure with multiple state sponsored 'nurseries' and stakeholders. Therefore, Pakistan has always sought to 'internationalise' Kashmir to up the ante and vitiate the ground situation, whereas India has studiously maintained a no-intervention policy and insisted on 'bilateralism' – both these contrasting approaches amplify and personify the respective strategic positions on Kashmir.
Kashmir is a seven-decade-old Indo-Pak saga that is now enacting the same script in Afghanistan, much to the horror of Pakistan's onetime ally, the US, and for the Afghan President Ashraf Ghani (who initially gave the benefit of doubt to Pakistan), as they pay the price for dalliances with the duplicitous establishment in Pakistan. India and Pakistan have very different sovereign fundamentals, outlooks, and destiny - as India marches forward to be the 'fastest growing large economy' of the world, the national Frankenstein project in Pakistan has earned it the international notoriety of the terror capital of the world, and now the monster has started imploding and feeding upon its own creator.
Amidst, these two very different national tracks, the untimely suggestion by the new US Ambassador to the United Nations, the Indian-origin, Nikki Haley, to suggest an intervention to mediate on Kashmir and suggest the services of President Donald Trump towards the same, reflects the amateurish lack of sub-continental history, context and implications. The misplaced enthusiasm echoed in her statement, "I would expect that the (US) administration is going to be in talks and try and find its place to be part of that (process)", and added, "And also wouldn't be surprised if the President participates as well". Thankfully, a clarification to the contrary was issued subsequently by the US State Department spokesperson who later clarified, "We encourage India and Pakistan to engage in direct dialogue aimed at reducing tensions", in an obvious ode to the Indian stand of bilateralism – the impending risk of dealing with an immature and impulsive administration in Washington DC looms ahead.
So while the Former President Barack Obama's administration delicately but surely nuanced its outlook in favour of the Indian approach, in as much a tilt as possible, given the US stakes and strategic investments involved in keeping Islamabad in good humour, simultaneously. Donald Trump's oft-repeated call to review virtually all previous 'deals' and position statements of the American policy is fraught with risks of overenthusiastic outreach, like the recent one. The intrinsic commercial trait and style of 'deal-making' in Donald Trump's functioning is driven by his instinctive flair as a businessman – such a maverick style disdains for conventional norms, sobriety and respect for established doctrines.
Importantly, Donald Trump had earlier also alluded to mediating in the vexatious Indo-Pak framework during his Presidential campaign, however, he had qualified the same by saying that he would do so, only if the two countries wanted him to do so – the 'deal making' streak was apparent then too. Expectedly the Pakistani establishment lapped up the suggestion then, as indeed now, with the recent gaffe made by the Cabinet ranked, Nikki Haley. While it is still early days of the Trump regime and there are still no clear and formal indicators of any policy shifts on the Indo-Pak affairs, it would be prudent on the newly elected administration officials on the Capitol Hill to refrain from making any overenthusiastic statements that can be misconstrued and twisted, given the creative interpretations that are possible in the Indian sub-continent.
However, despite the short-term cheer in Islamabad, the latest commentary on the ground situation in the region by General John Nicholson, Commander of the US and NATO forces in Afghanistan, about Pakistan and its terror proxies should be a cold reality check of the inter-mingling of the terror groups, "Al Qaeda is linked to the Taliban, who are not a designated terrorist organisation but a violent extremist organisation, and the Taliban provide a medium for designated terrorist organisations like the Haqqani network, Lashkar-e-Taiba, and AQIS. These five form a loose sort of confederation that complement one another and work together". This statement by the head of the US security apparatus has a lot more thought, consideration, and weight attached to it, than a loose cannon ball fired by Nikki Haley. India's insistence on an 'environment free of terror and violence', echoes the consistent Indian line of calling the Pakistani bluff on duplicity on terror, while strongly ruling out any third party mediation by any country or multilateral organisation like the UN.
Lt General Bhopinder Singh (Retired) is former Lt Governor of Andaman and Nicobar Islands & Puducherry. The views expressed are strictly personal.