Tuesday, July 17, 2012
This weekend US President Barack Obama presented a curious twin thought: the best way forward for the resolution of outstanding issues between India and Pakistan, including the Jammu and Kashmir dispute, would be for Islamabad and New Delhi to address them bilaterally because “it is not the place of any nation, including the United States, to try to impose solutions from the outside.” In the same breath, however, the America president also emphasised the need for other nations to play a role in stabilising Pakistan. The message was clear: while Pakistan’s internal ‘problems’ were too big for the world to ignore or allow Pakistan to deal with alone, Pakistan’s India-related problems were best left alone by the world. Ruling out altogether that Pak-India disputes could be resolved outside the bilateral framework, but highlighting the need to mount international pressure on Pakistan to fix the problems that threatened its stability as well as that of the region – where have we heard this before? Yes, it seems that the US has accepted India’s position on Pakistan hook, line and sinker, to the utter neglect of Pakistani concerns.
Indeed, one of the basic tenets of India’s foreign policy has long been to discourage any third-party involvement in its affairs. As the most powerful country in the region, and the status quo power in Kashmir, it has favoured dealing with the neighbourhood bilaterally. But the fine point that many forget is that the Kashmir dispute is not only a territorial one – it is first and foremost an issue of the right of self-determination for the Kashmiri people – as committed to by Pakistan, India as well as the international community. Pakistan and India have 65 years to prove that ultimately the bilateral framework has always come down to a zero-sum game, leaving little room for flexibility. Fossilised positions have been regurgitated time and again while the dispute has lingered on, hindering the very creation of a stable South Asia. The need to look beyond the bilateral framework is thus critical – and the US would be doing a great disservice to the region if it tried to sell to the international community the idea that this is not the case. But let’s be clear: Pakistan won’t accept direct US intervention on Kashmir either because even from the Pakistani perspective, the US has its own strategic interests in this region and India is becoming critical to these interests. However, that does not rule out the UN as a third party mediator – with support from the major powers, including the US.
The UN has a commitment to intervene on Kashmir – a commitment it acquired in 1948 when India took the dispute to it and it proposed that a plebiscite be held under UN supervision. Over six decades later, the international community, including the US, has to put its weight behind doing the right thing on Kashmir. Isolating Pakistan just to serve the interests of another ‘strategic’ partner would not serve the US well in the future.