Trump’s offer on Kashmir not likely to work
President Donald Trump has repeated his offer to mediate between Islamabad and New Delhi over the Kashmir dispute during his recent visit to India. Reacting to the development, Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi took no time to declare it a diplomatic victory for his government and was visibly delighted by Trump’s acknowledgement of a “good relationship with Pakistan.”
The American president’s comments about Pakistan and Imran Khan may be a sign of improvement of relations between Islamabad and Washington, but Pakistan’s expectations of US arbitration on Kashmir seems misplaced since any move in that direction will also require Indian acceptance of the offer. It is India’s stated position, however, that it will not accept third-party arbitration on Kashmir, and there is no pressure on it to change its stance. Mediation is only possible when both sides in a conflict agree to it. India has already rejected the American president’s repeated arbitration offer.
Moreover, the assumption that American mediation would help Pakistan is highly exaggerated given the increasing US tilt toward India. It is true that the Trump administration has not endorsed India’s actions in occupied Kashmir, but it is not willing to express concern over the human rights violations by the Indian forces over there either. Trump’s comment on the Kashmir problem at a presser in New Delhi was too vague to be interpreted as US concern over the plight of the Kashmiri people.
Undoubtedly, Prime Minister Imran Khan and President Trump have developed good chemistry between them. Their recent meetings have helped break the ice in the relationship between the two countries. Putting behind the bitterness of the past, the two leaders have found some common ground to move on.
It has put back on track a mainly transactional relationship between the two erstwhile allies. But under Trump’s leadership, Washington and New Delhi have strengthened the strategic relationship and there is no question of the US president taking any step that would affect that nexus.
Pakistan’s diplomatic clout has eroded over the years because of political instability and economic insecurity. Prime Minister Khan may have warned the world of catastrophe if the Kashmir issue is not resolved, but the internal political strife has weakened Pakistan’s case.
It’s once again the lingering Afghan crisis that has brought Islamabad and Washington together. It’s a significant development that the Trump administration now sees Pakistan more as part of the solution than the cause of the problem in Afghanistan. Pakistan’s cooperation has been critical in getting a peace deal between the United States and the Taliban.
In other words, the Trump administration needs Pakistan’s support to extricate itself from a festering war that the US has never been able to win. There is, indeed, a convergence of interest, notwithstanding the huge trust deficit between the two countries. The US president has duly acknowledged Pakistan’s efforts. But it may not compel the United States to change tack on Kashmir.
It is evident that India will not be able to control the situation in held Kashmir, and the use of brutal military tactics is bound to worsen the situation. It is a battle the Kashmiri people will have to fight on various fronts. Indeed, Pakistan’s diplomatic and political support is critical, but it depends on how the Kashmiri people wage their struggle. Diplomatic efforts can only be effective if the international community feels that the situation demands its attention.
Pakistan’s diplomatic clout has eroded over the years because of political instability and economic insecurity. The government has failed even to build a national narrative on an issue as critical as Kashmir. Imran Khan has been warning the world of catastrophe if this lingering dispute between India and Pakistan issue is not resolved. But the internal political strife has weakened Pakistan’s case.
Surely, relations between Washington and Islamabad, as Trump said, are “much better now than before.” But it still remains tenuous, given the existing strategic divergences. One positive point was that there was no “do more” mantra from the US this time. Trump’s remarks at the joint presser in New Delhi marks a welcome change from the vitriolic statements emanating from Washington in the past, but the strategic divergences continue to make this relationship tenuous.
Of course, better relations with the US are important for Pakistan, but any expectation that Washington would tilt the balance in favor of Pakistan on Kashmir at the cost of its strategic partnership with India is nothing but self-deception. It is highly improbable that Washington as well as the international community could be persuaded to censure India on its actions in Kashmir and denial of human rights to millions of people. Pakistan’s choices are limited.
– Zahid Hussain is an award-winning journalist and author. He is a former scholar at Woodrow Wilson International Centre for Scholar, USA, and a visiting fellow at Wolfson College, University of Cambridge, and at the Stimson Center in Washington DC. He is author of Frontline Pakistan: The struggle with militant Islam (Columbia university press) and The Scorpion’s tail: The relentless rise of Islamic militants in Pakistan (Simon and Schuster, NY). Frontline Pakistan was the book of the year (2007) by the WSJ.