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Negotiating Peace In Kashmir: Is There A Role For The US?

The short answer is yes. Without US pressure, India, especially under Prime Minister Modi, is unlikely to want to even consider negotiating with Pakistan over Kashmir. What’s in it for the US? It needs India to counterbalance a rising China which is threatening US pre-eminence in the globe. And, of course, India needs to continue its economic relationship with the US. It is a major trading partner of the US and several American companies have invested in India.

Today, more than ever before, the US also needs Pakistan’s -help in negotiating a peace deal with the Taliban. That’s the only way that American forces can make a face-saving exit from Afghanistan prior to the presidential elections of 2020. And Pakistan even more needs the US. It has to find a way to increase its trade with the US so that it can begin to emerge from its economic slump. Additionally, the Pakistani military is keen to get into the good books of the US so that it can begin importing advanced military hardware to ward off any Indian threat. Despite all the hype about the Chinese-Pakistani jet fighter, JF-17, Pakistan would love nothing more than to modernize its aging fleet of the globally combat-proven F-16s and perhaps acquire some of the newer models on concessional terms.

When Prime Minister Imran Khan visited Washington, President Donald Trump publically assured him that he was willing to negotiate a peace deal between India and Pakistan. He also stated that Prime Minister Modi had asked him to play such a role. Even though that was subsequently denied by India, Trump could not have just made it up.

Also read: Negotiating Peace In Kashmir: What Are The Pre-Requisites?

As the only global superpower, the US is in a historically unprecedented position to bring India and Pakistan to the negotiating table. Times are very different from the early 60s when President Kennedy confided to Pakistan’s President Ayub that while there was an urgent need for a solution of the Kashmir problem, he was not in a position to play an active and direct role in the matter.

Also read: Negotiating Peace In Kashmir: How To Break The impasse?

While the US should caution Pakistan to not resort to “re-drawing borders with blood,” it should exhort the Indian leaders to go back to Gandhi’s doctrine of non-violence, and accept UN mediation to advance the cause of peace. As an incentive, the US should offer significant economic concessions such as lower tariff barriers to the two countries if they agree to resolve the Kashmir dispute. To further increase the peace dividend, the US could offer to write-off a substantial portion of their foreign debt.

Finally, to address India’s contention that it needs to defend itself against China, the US could offer security guarantees to all countries in South Asia against a nuclear attack from outside the region.

Is it possible to be sanguine on the prospects for peace in Kashmir? While faced with a similar deadlock in the Middle East, Kissinger began his shuttle diplomacy with an eye on peace as the only option, because “the absence of alternatives clears the mind”.

There is a major precedent in South Asia for a negotiated solution. India and Pakistan were able to reach an amicable settlement on the distribution of the waters of the Indus river system most of which originates in Kashmir. The Indus Basin Treaty signed by Ayub and Nehru in 1962 was an act of great wisdom and far-sighted statesmanship on the part of both countries. It laid the foundations for the “green revolution” in both countries, thus maximizing grain production within a few years.

Leaders in both countries need to resolve the Kashmir problem, in order to realize the unfilled expectations of their citizens of independence from colonial rule. As Ayub noted in his memoirs, once peace breaks out between the two countries, “India should then be able to reduce its army by half and we too should be able to cut down our military expenditure proportionately.”

It may then even become possible to fulfill Jinnah’s vision of peaceful coexistence where Pakistan and India, as independent sovereign states, are able “to collaborate in a friendly way jointly to defend their frontiers both on land and sea against any aggression.”


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