For the past few weeks Kashmir has ascended to the circle of international politics more vigorously. It has acquired new dimensions on the eve of Obama visit to India in November. The scenario has become so assorted and complicated it has become almost impossible to sift facts from fictions. Whilst the international politics of South Asia takes its zigzag course the fact remains that the Kashmir issue has once again acquired the centre stage in the perimeters of foreign policy making of India, Pakistan, the US and China, while other interested players have followed the matters assiduously.
The news about a possible secret understanding between India and the US over Kashmir made enough rounds, which was later officially denied by the US. However, it may not be absolutely incomprehensible why the news was floated before one month of the Obama visit to India, and many analysts seem reasonable to ask whether there is any actual understanding between the two and the official denial is just to soft-pedal the understanding amidst confusion. The understanding as covered widely in media stipulated that India would involve in a kind of bargain with the US to the effect that it will expeditiously solve the Kashmir issue in return of the US support to its candidature for the permanent membership of the United Nations Security Council. The fact that Obama had made the pledge during presidential election to make Kashmir as a central plank in his foreign policy maneuvers, and duly remembered so by some Congress members, further added confusion and also suspicion whether the so-called understanding between the two powers were mere rumours, or despite official denials by both, have substance about it which will be known during the presidential visit.
The developments of past few weeks can be well interpreted as not disparate events but all in a single string towards internationalization of the Kashmir issue. The Republican Congressman Dan Burton exhorted Barack Obama to fulfill his pre-election pledge. He, like some other US policy makers and analysts, linked Kashmir with Afghanistan and raised the emotional pitch how ‘sons and daughters are fighting the global war on terror’ and how resolving the Kashmir issue will bring all normalcy and peace in the region. The Congressman, however, could not link how the growth of Taliban in ranks and in ferocity could increase manifold despite the NATO presence in the trouble torn Afghanistan for about a decade. Is it alleged rigidity of India on Kashmir or the factors including strategic great games, pipeline and energy politics, religious extremism and fundamentalism, that have contributed to the viciousness of Afghan politics? Further deep, Taliban was never a creation of Kashmir problem, but the reasons need to be found in the cold war politics and also the role of radical forces promoted by then US government.
The US policy makers seem to have recently developed keen interest in the Kashmir issue. Two US diplomats from the US embassy in New Delhi visited Kashmir on 3 October 2010, and met the Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front Chairman, Yasin Malik. It is yet to be known the policy brief of these two diplomats to the valley and what did they discuss with separatist leaders. It appeared their visit to the valley had the tacit consent of the government of India. News reports abuzz with their interactions with the separatist leader Yasin Malik, who exhorted the US to play an active role to resolve the Kashmir issue. It needs mention that the US indeed had played an important role for about five decades over Kashmir in various forums including the United Nations, but without any substantive result. Then United Nations Secretary General, Kofi Annan during his visit to India in 2001 had stated that the UN has no role to play in the resolution of the Kashmir issue. The current Secretary General has taken the stand, unless requested by the both the contending parties to the conflict India and Pakistan, the UN can not play a mediatory role to resolve the issue.
The fact remains unless India and Pakistan come to a negotiating table it is almost impossible to further proceed on Kashmir resolution process. Both the nations have core differences over many issues, important among them is the issue of terrorism. International powers acknowledge how the radical organizations playing havoc in India have their bases in Pakistan. Besides, India and Pakistan have huge psychological gap in understanding and appreciating each other position. But, it will be absolute naïve to pressurize these two neighbouring countries and nudge them towards solution of the issue. India’s prime minister who often talks about going ‘extra mile’ in relations with Pakistan appears to have stuck to the same position despite opposition from other parties and also occasional rebuff from his own party members. It is true that after the Mumbai attack the relations have suffered a huge set back. But it is also equally true, unless both the countries shed the differences; it will be very difficult to find a solution to Kashmir issue. Pakistan foreign minister’s exhortation at the United Nations that the issue must be internationalized, has been strongly opposed by the Indian policy makers, and in view of this contradiction of positions, it is impossible for the US to bring both the adversaries to negotiating table. Perhaps Obama could visualize this complexity of the matter, and hence, after his elections, he appointed amidst much speculation a special envoy, not for Kashmir, but for the Afghanistan-Pakistan region. But interest of international powers in Kashmir has certainly increased especially following the recent popular protests in the Kashmir valley. There are multiple calculations behind the Kashmir maneuvers. Kashmir borders India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, China and Central Asia, and hence, its strategic depth is undoubtedly immense. It is difficult at present to say whether the present developments in and about Kashmir portray a bleak or peaceful future for the region, or it is a mere great game gambit to cool off the Afghan situation, the forthcoming Obama visit to India will make some of the dust clear from the complex maze of Kashmir.