Forget Pakistan and move on.
I came across this article in Foreign Policy by Teresita and Howard Schaffer entitled “Afghanistan, Pakistan and Kashmir: A grand bargain?“ Ambassadors Teresita and Howard Schaffer are true paragons of the U.S. foreign policy community and have extensive experience in the subcontinent (indeed, Mrs. Schaffer is fluent in Hindi and Urdu). However, as someone with tremendous respect for their contributions, I found some of the recommendations in the article surprising.
The article calls for a review of U.S. strategic options with Pakistan and postulates a “grand bargain,” which essentially involves “giving” Pakistan what it wants in Afghanistan, but on two pre-conditions: first, making Pakistan responsible for preventing terrorism emanating from Afghanistan (yes, only Afghanistan), and second, getting Pakistan to agree on a settlement on Kashmir on the present geopolitical lines. In all fairness, the article both recognizes the challenges inherent in such a plan, and accepts that the likelihood of such a bargain coming to fruition is rather low. However, there are elements in this “grand bargain” that I find either disturbing or infeasible.
The first element of this “grand bargain” involves accepting Pakistani hegemony in Afghanistan. Pakistan, not the civil administration in Afghanistan, will be empowered to undertake negotiations between Kabul and “whatever elements of the Taliban” to work towards a post-war settlement. The article also envisages the U.S. accepting Pakistan’s demand of eliminating Indian involvement in Afghanistan. Such logic should greatly concern New Delhi, which recently signed “strategic partnership” with Afghanistan involving an enhancement of bilateral ties in education, economics and security. This article fails to explain why Afghanistan or India would ever entertain this, and how the U.S. and Pakistan feel they are in a position to transact such an arrangement without resistance from India and Afghanistan.
Next, in return for this “grand bargain,” the article recommends that the U.S. warn Pakistan that it would be held responsible for any act of terror originating from Afghanistan or Pakistan. The article doesn’t delve any further into how this fete is to be accomplished. The Pakistanis have acted with an ascending sense of impunity in conducting sub-conventional operations in a region already dominated by U.S. forces. If the U.S.’s strategy with respect to Pakistan’s proclivity for terror has failed to yield tangible results thus far, what other tools does the U.S. suppose it has to force Rawalpindi into compliance?
The third component of this bargain pertains to Kashmir. According to the article, the U.S. would “tell” Pakistan that it would publicly call for a settlement on Kashmir based on existing demarcations along the LoC and “give India advance notice” of the announcement.
Advance notice! One wonders if the U.S. thinks that it is in a position to orchestrate such a grand settlement especially at a time when its own power is fading relative to other actors on the global stage. The U.S. would do well to imbibe an espresso shot of reality here. Where is the appetite for such an arrangement in a rabidly anti-India Pakistan? Pakistan’s political parties created an uproar just last week in response to the inconsequential issue of granting India the status of “Most Favored Nation.” For a nation bred on the notion that Kashmir is rightfully theirs, any compromise on the issue will elicit a response that Rawalpindi and Islamabad will be incapable of dealing with.
And while India in very broad terms would like a settlement based on turning the LoC into a permanent border, it is in no particular hurry to make the move. India today is focused on restoring relative peace to Jammu & Kashmir; to that end, it has encouraged dialog between the Centre and political parties of all hues in the Valley. However, an external reconciliation of Jammu & Kashmir is just not a priority.
The weak coalition in New Delhi does not have the political capital necessary to conclude on such a significant transaction, even if it wanted to. Simply, Kashmir is a “core issue” for India, and as the U.S. has already realized, is one where India is demonstratively inflexible. If an impoverished India of the past managed to stave off U.S. pressure on Kashmir, what makes the U.S. think that an ascending India will do otherwise? Any expectation that India will march to the U.S.’s tune merely on being told to do so, is very far removed from reality indeed.
In the end, if the U.S. hopes to move on from its engagement in Afghanistan and ensure that the country does not return to a pre-9/11 jihadi haven, it must stop encouraging Pakistan’s institutional irrationality. This involves recognizing that U.S. and Pakistan’s interests are divergent, and that Pakistan isn’t the solution, but the problem. Further, it must realize that even assuming Kashmir is resolved by some miracle, this will not necessarily mean an end to Pakistan’s obsession with India.
Pakistan’s problem is not Kashmir, it is India and India’s existence. Pakistan’s quest for “strategic depth” in Afghanistan — an agenda duly entertained in the article — is directly tied to its preoccupation with India. If there were no India, there would be no need for “strategic depth” in Afghanistan. Therefore, how does India attain peace with Pakistan, when Pakistan’s definition of peace involves India’s dismemberment? Questions for the Schaffers and the U.S. to ponder over.