UNITED STATES OBSESSION WITH THE KASHMIR ISSUE: An Analysis
by Dr. Subhash Kapila
Pakistan excepted, it is the United States of America which stands out as the second nation most obsessed with the Kashmir issue. The American obsession with Kashmir has been persistent for the last fifty years or so.
Paradoxically, when Indian Governments and leaders of all hues have contested Pakistan’s obsession with Kashmir, no Indian government or leaders have questioned the United States obsession. Similarly, the Indian media which goes to ridiculous lengths at over-analysis of Kashmir happenings and national security issues, has also not ventured to question the United States obsession with Kashmir.
In the last fifty years, the United States has applied different labels to the Kashmir issue from ‘self- determination’ to ‘aspiration of the Kashmiri people’ to being ‘a nuclear flash-point’ endangering international security’. The constantly changing stand of the United States is reflective of the fact that the United States stand on the Kashmir issue is flexible and can be said to be dependent on two factors at a given point in time: (1) Tenor of India-United States relations and; (2) The strategic utility of Pakistan for any intended United States strategic moves in South West Asia.
Kashmir or the Kashmir issue, therefore is of no concern to the United States, but only an expedient strategic tool for the region. However, since the United States cannot be ignored on any strategic issue, its rationale for its obsession with the Kashmir issue needs to be analysed. This analysis can best be done in reverse order by first analysing whether Kashmir does exist as an issue at all and then trying to understand United States motives.
Kashmir is an Obsolescent Issue: Kashmir has become an obsolescent issue as: (1) Pakistan has failed repeatedly to alter the status by resort to arms and proxy war (2) Pakistan has exhibited an incorrigible pattern of behaviour in reneging on all agreements (Simla Agreement 1972) and accords (Lahore Accord 1999) and UN resolutions (UN Resolution of 1948 and 1949 asking for withdrawal of Pakistan Army from Kashmir) which could have provided the basis for any amicable resolution of Pakistani concerns.
Pakistan and so also the United States have to come to grips with the harsh strategic reality that the Kashmir issue besides India’s legal inheritance, stands resolved through obsolescence itself.
This view stands corroborated by noted authority on conflict resolution and international politics: Prof K.J. Holsti. Prof. Holsti is an eminent Canadian scholar and once President of the International Studies Association.
United States Original Unequivocal Stand On Kashmir Accession: Warren Austin, the United States Representative to the United Nation asserted in the United Nations on February 4, 1948: “The external sovereignty of Kashmir is no longer under the control of the Maharaja…. With the accession of Jammu and Kashmir to India, this foreign sovereignty went over to India and is exercised by India…..”.
The above clearly indicates that the United States at the inception of the dispute and conflict generated by Pakistan was abundantly clear and had asserted the legality of Kashmir’s accession to India.
It can be said that this clear assertion was made before Cold War politics could take root in the Indian sub-continent and before Pakistan became an accomplice of US strategic designs.
Subsequent Changes in American Stand: In brief, a historical analysis of subsequent events would indicate that America’s stand on Kashmir kept changing in direct response to India’s stances and attitudes on international issues. The more important factors that came into play, singly or in combination were:
* United States State Department policies towards the Indian Sub-continent becoming overly dependent on the guidance of Sir Olaf Caroe, the British expert and friend of Pakistan.
* United States stand on Kashmir was being determined by Britain. Britain has never till today got over the loss as to why Kashmir did not accede to Pakistan despite, Britain’s determined efforts.
* The Cold War enlistment of Pakistan as a strategic ally for containment of the former Soviet Union.
* India’s policy of non-alignment which became an anathema for the United States and the West.
Broad pattern of American Involvement with Kashmir Issue: The American involvement with the Kashmir issue has been a constant. What has varied is the intensity and this corresponded to the prevailing security environment and USA-India-Pakistan equations. (1) The 1950s witnessed active involvement; (2) The 1960s and 1970s was an era of detached involvement; (3) The 1980s marked US promotion of dialogue.
The 1990s witnessed an intense anti-Indian manifestation on the Kashmir question under the Clinton Administration. This was chiefly due to the pro-Pakistan proclivities of the Asstt Secretary of State, Robin Raphael who on October 23, 1993 declared that: “We (USA) do not recognise the legal validity of Kashmir’s accession as meaning that Kashmir is for ever an integral part of India… The people of Kashmir have got to be consulted in any kind of final settlement of the Kashmir dispute.” It was a strange reversal from what Warren Austin had declared in 1948.
Clinton was later to make amends in the last year of his second administration on this count when Pakistan was berated by him on the Kashmir issue, specifically in terms of respect for the LOC. It must be noted that the proxy war in J&K by Pakistan intensified during the 1990s i.e. the era of United States permissiveness of Pakistan’s delinquency in Kashmir.
What has crept in US policies in the 1990s and being sustained by the present Bush Administration and particularly the Secretary of State, Colin Powell is “the aspirations of Kashmiri people”.
Kashmiri alienation and ‘Aspiration of the Kashmiri People’: Much stands recorded on this count and to make this analysis simpler, what needs to be re-counted is:
* Kashmiri alienation is a myth propagated by Pakistan, Western scholars and the Indian media elite. Alienation in the valley inspired by foreign Islamic Jehadi impulses is restricted and confined to the Kashmir valley. It cannot be applied to the other major and bigger regions of Jammu, Ladakh and non-Valley Muslim areas.
* If Kashmir alienation was so pronounced and claimed by the above sections, Pakistan would have been able to inflict a ‘Bangladesh’ on India. That this has not happened negates such assertions.
The United States and others need to understand that under the provisions of accession of princely states in 1947 under the British policies of ‘Transfer of Power’, Kashmir cannot be made an exception.
In any case, even Pakistan as the main protagonist and contender in Kashmir, would not permit any resolution, incorporating the American invented, 1990’s version of “aspirations of the Kashmiri people”.
United States Strategic Interest in Kashmir: Recent reports had indicated that the United States has strategic interests in Kashmir as an independent entity. An independent Kashmir would be wholly dependent on the United States and would facilitate establishing a permanent military presence of the United States.
This speculative report stands negated as establishing any United States military presence in an independent Kashmir would be costly, terrain-wise strategically unsound, and whose access to a land-locked entity would mean over-flying territories of other nations which may not permit so always.
The United States, therefore, has a strategic objective, of using Kashmir as a “pressure-point” in the conduct of its policies in the Indian sub-continent. Comparatively, use of Kashmir as a pressure-point is more India-intended and more India-relevant. This is the stark reality that all Indians, and especially the liberal fraternity, must note and recognise.
Conclusion: Contentious issues and disputes have a shelf-life and cannot be flogged ad-nauseum. This reality must dawn on the United States. More importantly it must manifest itself in American official pronouncements. Kashmir is an obsolescent issue now and needs to be given a dignified burial, which can best be done by the United States.
Emerging strategic realities in the Indian sub-continent would indicate in faint contours now and in more bold contours in the future, that the United States national interests would best be served in the Indian sub continent and the Indian Ocean region by a friendly India and not a “pressurised” India. A strongly emerging and assertive India becomes that much less “pressure -prone”.
(Dr. Subhash Kapila is an International Relations and Strategic Affairs analyst.