The biggest losers of Obama’s potential Kashmir plans will be the Kashmiri people in India
C Raja Mohan is right: India “has everything to gain by embracing the essence of Obama’s idea—bringing stability to the region between the Indus and the Hindu Kush.” Although, as he goes on to argue, “that in turn would create a basis for the necessarily difficult discussion with the Obama administration on the appropriate tactics to achieve the shared strategic objectives with the US.”
The problem, of course, is that President Obama comes into office with a particularly bad idea—that feeding Pakistan’s ambitions over its dispute with India over Kashmir will somehow help in addressing the Taliban and al-Qaeda threat in Afghanistan & Pakistan. It is possible that the saner counsel will prevail in an administration touted to be relatively more cerebral than its predecessor and that it will throw its resources to solving the central problem—Pakistan. The administration’s new point-man, possibly Richard Holbrooke, would do well to solicit Indian military support to secure Afghanistan, and engage other influential nations to work out a MacArthur plan for Pakistan.
In the meantime, though, President Obama’s ‘plans’ will have a negative impact as far as Jammu & Kashmir’s long-awaited return to normalcy is concerned.
Already, the Lashkar-e-Taiba has let it be known that it welcomes the international community’s intervention in Kashmir. It would have the world believe that it has no cause beyond Kashmir and that it only took to terrorism because the international community didn’t support its peaceful struggle. (You are supposed to ignore the little business of its declaration of war against Indians, Jews and westerners; and that it never did participate in any peaceful struggle).
If the eager-to-please-the-new-boss statements of the British foreign secretary could gladden the hearts of terrorists, then surely, separatist politicians would rejoice at the omens of a bailout. The Hurriyat is likely to remain uncompromising—even after being completely discredited after last month’s elections—in the hope that a US intervention will keep them afloat. To the extent that this hampers Omar Abdullah government’s democratic mandate to engage in dialogue with the central government, this is a negative for the people of the state.
And in the aftermath of Pakistan’s decision to brazen it out over its role in the terrorist attacks on Mumbai, the Indian government is unlikely to move forward on the outcome of the secret bilateral diplomacy over the Kashmir issue. The current tensions make it harder for the Indian government to proceed with the important task of winding down the security presence in the state. And even if it is comfortable doing so, India would be justified in holding it back pending greater clarity on the outcome of its discussions with the Obama administration. What India would have done anyway might end up having to wait until it could count as one of Mr Holbrooke’s achievements.
As Professor Raja Mohan concludes, it would indeed be a pity of a lack of strategic imagination prevents India from exploiting the opportunities for peace in the subcontinent arising from President Obama’s plans. But it is already a pity that those plans risk prolonging the misery of the people of Jammu & Kashmir, even after they loudly signalled that they had had enough. It would be a greater pity if the risk becomes reality.