Trump, Modi And The Kashmir Conflict
United States (US) President Donald Trump and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi have much in common as far as the rising political ideologies of far right groups are concerned. While President Trump represents the white supremacist populist ideology, Prime Minister Modi follows Hindu extremist Hindutva ideology. Both the leaders have used their far right ideological inclinations to consolidate their vote banks and defeat their opponents belonging to liberal political parties in their respective countries.
Although white supremacists and Hindu extremists have the least in common from a historical and an ideological perspective, the modernised middle class Indian diaspora which migrated to the US in 1990s and have achieved great success since then, is providing the bridge between the two leaders.
Many analysts of Indian foreign policy have started to point out that the Indian diaspora is providing the backbone of strategic partnership between the two countries. That this diaspora is deeply influenced by the Hindu extremist ideology is a well-known fact.
A glaring display of these new political realities in India-US relations was witnessed in Houston, Texas the other day where about 50,000 Indian-Americans participated in a rally which was jointly attended by the two leaders.
While the crowd chanted his name as he took the stage, the Indian prime minister introduced Trump as “my friend, a friend of India, and a great American president”.
As Trump and Modi entered the stadium where the rally was held, hundreds of Kashmiris staged a protest demonstration outside the venue demanding an end to Indian occupation of Jammu and Kashmir. They were joined by other ethnic groups from South Asia which have also been facing oppression at the hands of state machineries in their respective areas.
Both white supremacists and Hindu extremists share a penchant for asserting the rights and status of white and Hindu majority in their respective societies. This political ideology is seen by the liberal elements in the US and Indian societies as the root cause of depriving the minorities of their rights and ending the dream of a secular and liberal state.
We must also remember that it was the Hindu majoritarian views that led New Delhi to revoke the special status of the valley which was granted to it by Article 370 of the Indian constitution. This move has become the cause of regional political and military tensions.
Many belonging to the liberal segment of the Indian society have pointed out that the assertion of this majority view in Hindu society would put India on a collision course with the regional countries, especially Pakistan, and would give rise to many fissures developing within the Indian society.
But the impact of white supremacist ideology on US foreign policy has been the opposite: it is leading President Trump, who entered the White House while riding the wave of white supremacist support in America, to disentangle the juggernaut of US military power from regional conflicts, including from Afghanistan. President Trump is taking opposite positions to the liberal internationalism stance adopted by his predecessors, including President Bush and President Obama.
A day after attending the Houston rally, President Trump held a bilateral one-on-one meeting with Prime Minister (PM) Imran Khan and repeated his offer to mediate on the Kashmir issue. “If I can help, I will certainly do that,” he said. “If both (India and Pakistan) want, I am ready, willing and able to do it.” Asked whether he is concerned about the human rights situation in occupied Kashmir, Trump said: “Sure. I’d like to see everything work out. I want everybody to be treated well.”
President Trump presides over one of the most vibrant foreign policy establishment in the world and one can’t expect him to be so naïve as not to understand that India would never accept his offer of mediation on Kashmir. Therefore his mediation offer is more like a stillborn.
Many experts in Islamabad are of the opinion that the reiteration of mediation offer during the meeting with PM Khan was primarily meant to give a face saving device to Pakistan’s internationally cornered and deeply embarrassed foreign policy establishment.
Not surprisingly, US foreign policy establishment doesn’t want to completely alienate Pakistan at a time when public manifestation of new strategic partnership between US and India are coming on full display. Indian investment in the US defence industry and joint India- US military exercises are not small feats and these have the potential to change the nature of relations between the two countries.
The intention of Washington to use India as a counter weight to rising military and economic power of China is an old story. The new element in this story is the opposition that Modi’s government is facing from the Hindutva influenced strategic thinkers who believe that sitting in the lap of Washington, which keeps on changing its position vis-a-vis China and Pakistan, to oppose the Chinese military might in this region is a risky business.
Despite this visible opposition, Prime Minister Modi is showing haste in putting on display his liking for the US and its current president. Indians are interested in US technology to develop their own industry and its military might as well.
On the other hand, the US is also in love with the Indian market. All this would result in India-US economic and military cooperation on a grand scale in this new age of globalisation, and India seems to be the prime beneficiary of this relation.
The lessons for Pakistan are becoming clearer as it is the odd one out in this economically inter-connected globalised world. Its economy is in tatters and the law and order and political situation is uncertain, thus making it difficult for international investors to be attracted towards this market.
In such a situation it is repeating the mistake of espousing the causes which has found little support internationally even among its best friends. Saudi Arabia is more interested in selling oil to energy hungry industry of India than voicing support for the Kashmir cause, and China is more concerned about the impact of any success of Kashmiri populist movement on its restive province of Xinjiang where Muslim separatists, the religious cousins of Kashmiri Muslims, are engaged in a struggle against the Chinese state.
US foreign policy establishment and President Trump must have an appreciation of this desperate situation Pakistan finds itself in. Pakistan’s economic journey is marked from one International Monetary Fund (IMF) bailout package to another. Politically, its opposition is almost up in arms against the military-backed government of Imran Khan and there is no certainty that the law and order situation would not be disturbed by a crisis in the coming months.
In such a situation, Kashmir is a luxury which the Pakistani state and society cannot afford at this stage. Any adventure against which the US State Department has been implicitly warning Pakistan would only do more harm to our brothers in Kashmir than serve any of their interests.
President Trump is only playing to the Pakistani galleries whenever he offers to mediate on the Kashmir conflict. This offer has no meaning in the regional politics of South Asia. This offer serves the twin purpose of placating Pakistani public opinion and building the image of US and its president as someone who is not a party to the Kashmir conflict despite its newfound love for India.
Whether the US president would allow Pakistan to use its leverage it has attained as a facilitator of Afghan peace talks to be used in Kashmir diplomacy is difficult to predict at the moment.
Pakistan’s foreign policy establishment would certainly improve its acceptability in the world capitals if it successfully orchestrates an Afghan peace agreement. But this impact would not be long lasting. Remember Kashmir diplomacy requires long-term planning.
Under these circumstances, the biggest question is what impact the alliance between India and US would mean for this region in the long run and how Pakistan would adjust to it? Pakistan would have very few options in the face of a highly unstable domestic situation it is currently facing.
Umer Farooq is an Islamabad-based freelance journalist. He writes on security, foreign policy and domestic political issues.