For the four days he was at the less-than-glamorous New Delhi hotel, their soft-spoken, greying guest never once ventured past the lobby to walk the streets of the city he’d once lived. Every single day, he had the same visitor, an elderly gentleman who arrived and left alone. The two men — Niaz Naik, once Pakistan’s high commissioner to New Delhi, and the then Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s secret envoy; RK Mishra, among former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s closest confidantes — were working to remake history. They were determined to do it quietly.
In the summer of 2001, as India and Pakistan perched on the edge of war, former Pakistani foreign secretary Sartaj Aziz claimed the two men had been close to a deal on Kashmir, converting the Line of Control into a border, and in return giving autonomy to the Kashmir Valley.
“If that process had continued”, Aziz said, “who knows? Maybe in one or two or three years we could have found a solution or at least defused tensions”. “I think it is still possible to move forward on Kashmir,” he went on. “This has to be done in a quiet way, away from the glare of cameras”.
For better or for worse, the dagger and the cloak are the tools of geopolitics. US President Donald Trump’s on-camera claim, on Monday, to have been asked to mediate on Kashmir by Prime Minister Narendra Modi demonstrates why the microphone isn’t. Trump’s comments have caused delight in Pakistan, but have generated anger in India, and no little embarrassment in his diplomatic establishment.
For decades, India has held that Kashmir is a bilateral issue; the comments leave New Delhi with no choice but to accuse Trump of lying. Emotion, however, shouldn’t be allowed to obscure the meaning, or significance, of what is going on.
Like it or not, the United States has been a key actor in shaping the course of the India-Pakistan conflict in Kashmir ever since the late 1990s. Hard-nosed realist that he is, Modi is profoundly unlikely not to have asked Trump for help on Kashmir or Pakistan.
Bar the slim prospect that someone with direct knowledge speaks out, of course, there’s no knowing exactly what Modi told Trump. Things aren’t helped by the fact that Trump is a pathological fantasist; in his mind, after all, the American revolutionaries seized airports and “manned the air” as they fought imperial Britain in 1775.
For all its public protestations about sovreignity, India has often leaned on superpowers to secure strategic ends, just like every other nation-state. Kargil, we know from former External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh’s memoirs, ended on terms shaped by the United States. After the India-Pakistan crisis of 2001-2002, United States diplomacy was again crucial in pushing Pakistan’s military ruler General Pervez Musharraf to clamp down on jihadists.
Former prime minister Manmohan Singh, in turn, reached out to the United States after 26/11, seeking to ensure Pakistan would act against the Lashkar-e-Taiba and other anti-India jihadist groups.
Faced with worries in Moscow that the 1971 war could spiral into a showdown between the Soviet Union and China, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi had to dispatch her eminence grise PN Dhar to promise that India would not annex West Pakistani territory.
Even the the high priest of non-alignment, former prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru, wasn’t above enabling Central Intelligence Agency terrorist operations against China, and allowing U2 spyplanes to refuel over India after the war with China in 1962.
Modi’s engagement with Trump is likely driven by three contexts, each a rising threat to India’s strategic position in Kashmir. First — braggadocio about how he can ensure a 10-day triumph in Afghanistan notwithstanding-Trump is desperate to exit what he sees as a pointless conflict. His military and intelligence services, though, are warning that withdrawal will leave the United States vulnerable to jihadist threats, a peace deal with the Talban notwithstanding.
To avoid the public relations disaster of the Taliban rolling back into Afghan cities, United States troops died to liberate — and the electoral disaster that will follow future terrorist attacks — Trump needs Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate to be on his side.
The second context to India’s Kashmir policy its understanding of the limits of what military force can compel Pakistan to do. For all the thunder and lightning surrounding India’s cross-border air and special-forces strikes across the Line of Control, Modi has shown little interest in leading the country towards war. The defence budgets he has run have been the lowest, as a percentage of GDP, since 1962-ruling out the rapid, large-scale modernisationIndia’s armed forces need to exercise decisive coercive influence.
In order to degrade jihadist infrastructure, and coerce the Pakistani state into ending support for terrorism, India will need to mount a sustained military campaign, but that will mean a state of near-war, damaging to India’s own economy and growth prospects.
Financial pressure from the West, and the crisis in Pakistan’s economy, offer tools to secure the same ends, without the same risks-but only of the United States is willing to keep up the pressure. Modi has, most likely, explained to Trump the case for doing so, because India-Pakistan crisis will undermine the United States’ big strategic goal, containing China.
Third, there are India’s internal concerns in Kashmir. Faced with an youth cohort increasingly influenced by jihadism, and a dysfunctional political class that has shown itself incapable of confronting it, the government is contemplating new strategies. Even though police and military units have shown themselves capable of containing terrorism, many in the government believe new constitutional and political arrangements are needed to reshape the landscape itself.
However, little imagination is needed to see that this is a high-stakes gamble. Faced with new legislation or constitutional arrangements, Kashmir’s political actors-now sharply divided-could join battle against the Indian state. That would give unprecedented opportunity to Pakistan.
Put simply, the prime minister needs to ensure Islamabad isn’t able to sabotage what he’s hoping to accomplish — and to that end, again, he needs Trump’s help.
Loath as Indian leaders have been to acknowledge it to a public for whom memories of colonial rule are still fresh, there is plenty of precedent for such engagement. Following post-Kargil war collapse of the secret discussions on Kashmir held by Niaz Naik and RK Mishra, New Delhi worked hard to pick up where things had left off. Pakistani-origin businessman Ijaz Mansoor, who claimed influence with President Bill Clinton, was even flown to Srinagar in an Indian government jet, to meet with local politicians in a bid to drum up support for the dialogue.
Then, under former prime minister Manmohan Singh and Musharraf, a new secret channel evolved involving diplomats Satinder Lambah and Tariq Aziz, this one focussed on an arrangement that would institutionalise the Line of Control as a border, but make it irrelevant, like that which divides the two sides of Ireland.
For decades, New Delhi and Islamabad have used spies to maintain secret contacts. In 1987, Research and Analysis Wing chief RAW chief AN. Verma and ISI Director-General Hamid Gul met to discuss Khalistan terror, in talks brokered by Jordan.
In the wake of the 2002 crisis, then-RAW chief CD Sahai, and his ISI counterpart Lieutenant-General Ehsan-ul-Haq met regularly, to stitch up a ceasefire on the Line of Control.
Even in the midst of the crisis that followed this year’s air strike on Balakote, India’s National Security Advisor, Ajit Doval, and its former RAW chief, Anil Dhasmana, spoke to high officials in Pakistan.
For Modi not to be using the diplomatic and covert resources at his disposal to be talking business on Kashmir would be indefensible, even criminal. There’s room, in all fraught geopolitical situations, for quiet conversation where the unimaginable and impossible can be discussed. Trump’s inability to keep private conversations private will, without doubt, hurt whatever processes are now underway, involving his country, Pakistan and India. His loud mouth, though, shouldn’t be allowed to demolish them. Source: By Paraveen Swami, Firstpost