Recently, Prime Minister Imran Khan was on his maiden visit to the United States where he met with President Donald Trump. The visit was well-advertised and has been portrayed variously as a ‘diplomatic victory’ and a ‘diplomatic coup’ staged by Prime Minister Khan. In fact, upon his return, the Prime Minister announced that he felt as if he was ‘returning after winning the World Cup’. Such jubilation should cause one to take a moment to reflect on its cause.
It goes without saying that the highlight of the trip was President Trump’s much publicized and much trumpeted ‘offer’ to ‘mediate’ the Kashmir dispute between India and Pakistan. This offer has been bandied about as the most important success of the trip. So, we may ask: Will the Trump offer lead to progress on the Kashmir front and possibly lead to a resolution of the Kashmir conflict?
The simple answer to that is: No, not really. Why do I say that? Because of the context of the statement that is being ignored by commentators on the subject.
Firstly, within minutes of President Trump saying that he could mediate the Kashmir conflict, the spokesperson for the Indian Ministry of External Affairs, Mr. Raveesh Kumar, responded in pithy, but rather illustrative terms. Mr. Kumar said that it had been India’s ‘consistent position’ that all outstanding issues with Pakistan are to be ‘discussed only bilaterally’. Here, the words ‘only’ and ‘bilaterally’ are of operative import. India has once again stated in unequivocal terms that it is not going to accept any mediation. Mr. Kumar followed up the above with this: “The Shimla Agreement & the Lahore Declaration provide the basis to resolve all issues between India & Pakistan bilaterally.” By naming specific agreements between the two countries, Mr. Kumar seemed to be reminding Pakistan that the country itself had signed off on a bilateral mode of engagement between the two countries.
In the middle of it, Mr. Kumar stuck in another important sentence. He stated: “Any engagement with Pakistan would require an end to cross border terrorism.” This too has been a ‘consistent’ position of India. The country has hinged any progress on outstanding issues with Pakistan on an end to, what it believes is, Pakistani support to cross-border terrorism. Here, I do not mean to debate the veracity or the semantics of the claim. I am only quoting the words of Mr. Raveesh Kumar and the position of India. Just the same, note that Mr. Kumar used the term ‘require’. So, that is very clearly an attempt at stonewalling. India is not going to engage in any negotiations with Pakistan – whether or not, the United States is acting as a mediator through the process – unless it has what it wants – that is, an end to purported Pakistani support to the Kashmiri freedom struggle.
With the above said, one may ask: ‘But does it matter what the Indians think? Won’t the Americans pull their weight and force the Indians to the table?’. That, in fact, is the most pertinent question in the context and it brings us to the second point. Following President Trump’s enunciations, the US State Department issued statements to US media which, tellingly, tread a line that seems outside the sphere of triumphalism of the Khan government in Pakistan.
First, the State Department paid the usual lip service to its belief that Kashmir issue ought to be resolved peacefully and through dialogue. It expressed the United States’ ‘readiness’ to ‘assist’ in the process. What the State Department was doing here was to notthrow its own boss, the American president, under the bus. What we must note is that this is nothing the United States has not already said. We have heard all this repeated ad hominem over the years. More importantly, irrespective of how this is read, the choice of words does notsuggest any major shift in policy.
Next, the State Department stated this: “We believe foundation for any successful dialogue between India and Pakistan is based on Pakistan taking sustained and irreversible steps against terrorists on its territory. These actions are in line with PM Imran Khan’s stated commitments and Pakistan’s international obligations”. The foundationof anysuccessful dialogue. The very foundation, it said. Based on what? On Pakistan taking ‘sustained’ and ‘irreversible’ steps against terrorists. Pray, I ask you. Could anyone have penned a finer tashreeh of how the Americans actually view the Indo-Pak situation, what they would be willing to support and what we should expect to get out of all this?
This is precisely the Indian position. Hit the terrorists first, the Indian say. The foundation of any successful dialogue between India and Pakistan is action against the terrorists, say the Americans.
The State Department statements were mirrored by the Chairman of US House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Mr. Eliot Engel. Mind you, Mr. Engel is a Democrat representative and does not belong to President Trump’s Republican Party. The influential Mr. Engel held a telephonic conversation with Mr. Harsh Vardan Shringla, the Indian ambassador to the United States, the contents of which were shared with the media. Mr. Engels effectively stated that the United States would stay out of the Kashmir conflict. He emphasized that the “scope and pace” of any dialogue between India and Pakistan could only be dictated by the two countries. In other words, the United States would not be ‘dictating’ the ‘scope’ or the ‘pace’. Then, I ask you, what mediation?
Finally, and here’s the punch: Mr. Engel stated that the “in order for dialogue to be meaningful, Pakistan must first take concrete and irreversible steps to dismantle the terrorist infrastructure on Pakistan’s soil.” There you go. The American position – once again in sync with the Indian position.
So, if you take out the ‘LCM’ (the ‘Least Common Multiple’) of all of the above, it would come to this: Everyone wants Pakistan to focus on terrorism, no one is going to do anything for Pakistan and nothing is going to happy unless Pakistan acts in ways that would be seen by the international community as ‘sustained and irreversible action against terrorism’. The sorriest thing here is that the above shows that the world seems in complete agreement with the Indian view that the freedom struggle in Kashmir is tantamount to terrorism!
Diplomatic coup? World Cup? None of that. We went to Washington and got, what would generally be regarded as, ‘off-the-cuff remarks’ by an American president known for such things. We descended into our own triumphalist delusions and portrayed these remarks as a major diplomatic coup. On the converse side, we saw the American President – unwittingly? (I, personally, don’t think so) – trigger a wave of statements by several stakeholders – US State Department, US legislators and the Indians – that emphasized to Pakistan that it ought to focus on the one quintessential thing that the Americans want us to focus on: terrorism!
One last thing here. The Pakistani Prime Minister closed off his US visit with an event at the United States Institute of Peace. Generally, this too has been bandied about as a major event where the Pakistani tiger roared and the world beheld it in wonder. Was it all that? Not at all! Pray, sift through the event’s video recording or its transcripts and you will come to this: Prime Minister Khan was interviewed by Ms. Nancy Lindborg, the President and CEO of the institute, no less, and, repeatedly, Ms. Lindborg threw questions and comments at our Prime Minister – on purported lack of press freedoms in Pakistan, on the Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement (PTM), and on the nature of Pakistan’s commitment to the Afghan peace process, among other things.
Why press freedom and the PTM? The message from American intelligentsia was clearly represented in the questions pitched to our Prime Minister. Nobody is going to let Pakistan portray India as a vile oppressor in Kashmir (not that it is not one!) without calling Pakistan’s own record on human rights into question. It would not matter if the portrayal of the human rights situation in Pakistan is correct or fair. The fact here is that we are not going to be let off easy. The Indians are going to want to use their influence in foreign capitals, including with the intelligentsia, to push back hard against Pakistan, attacking our human rights record to off-set our attempts to bring Indian atrocities in Kashmir into the limelight. Indeed – did anyone note? – the call between Mr. Engel and the Ambassador Shringla was reported in the American media as the former apologizing to the latter? The takeaway is simple: Indian influence stands strong and will be brought to bear against us on Kashmir.
So, progress on Kashmir? Nah. Not at all. Some ‘assistance’ if Pakistan acts against purported terrorist groups. Wasn’t that what the whole visit focused on? Afghanistan. Talking to the Taliban. Suggestion of unfreezing ‘military aid’ to Pakistan – of course, ifPakistan delivers in Afghanistan. Wasn’t that what Ms. Lindborg driving at as well? Will you really deliver in Afghanistan? Like, really really? They don’t really trust all that much with Afghanistan all that much, do they?
So what did the visit really achieve? Whither the diplomatic coup? Wither the World Cup? Off-the-cuff remarks by a President. Afghanistan, Afghanistan, Afghanistan. Terrorism, terrorism, terrorism. Deliver, deliver, deliver. Kashmir? Read this paragraph backward.
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