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August 25, 2019

IHK: US’s proposed ‘mediation’—myth or reality

National

August 25, 2019

The political space long diminished between India and Pakistan to engage, talk and even resolve issue particularly Kashmir. The situation turned to a stalemate after the annexation of IHK through scrapping of Article 370 by Delhi. Now with IHK on the boil, both countries are not far off from sleep walking into a conflict and escalation.

From Pakistan’s point of view, following reasons make it an urgent priority for the outside world to take cognizance of what is at stake and help break the logjam: a) since Pakistan once again learnt hard way from post-Balakot India that Delhi is not prepared for a peaceful co-existence with Islamabad, it further underlined to Pakistani elite to appeal for extra regional players to intervene; b) India is not willing to talk and its no talking policy makes the mantra of bilateralism irrelevant as an option to reduce tension what to talk of resolving issue like Kashmir; c) the more India refuses to engage Pakistan bilaterally, the more Kashmir becomes a core issue making Pakistani narrative stronger to push International powers particularly the US for putting pressure on Delhi for dialogue and resolution; and d) when the bilateral track has met a dead end long ago, it has foreclosed India’s conceivable cooperation on even small issues: for example, the rug may be pulled under the Kartarpur Corridor anytime soon as India is not happy pandering to Elitist Sikhs’ Religious Orthodoxy. This assessment makes Pakistan convinced to seek outside mediation.

Whereas India’s annexation of IHK was partly motivated by its belief that being a rising power it could not achieve optimal outcome through outside mediation and partly its new found confidence of asymmetrical military might, its economic rise, external geo-political axises with major world powers, it could browbeat Pakistan and can impose an outcome of its choice on IHK. So India has no tolerance for outside intervention.

Interestingly, Pakistan has pleaded with the US to be a mediator and President Trump repeatedly signalled his readiness to intervene, saying he will ask Prime Minister Modi during G7 meeting to solicit his opinion.

However, with all likelihood, Delhi may refuse any outside intervention, do we still see a mediating role of the US in some shape and form? What is the scope and limit of any such possible mediation? Is it a harbinger to any resumption of talks between India and Pakistan? These are very important questions we need to realistically answer necessary for any strategy going forward, Islamabad wants to adopt as part of its diplomatic surge following August 5 annexation of IHK by India.

To start with, the US is not offering any “classic” mediation with both parties setting across the table conceivably consenting to any formal role of Washington. As said above, it is almost a reality that India is neither prepared to talk in foreseeable future with Pakistan nor will accept any formal mediation by the US. The only role left for Washington is going to be fire fighter calming things once blow up nudging India to ease restrictions in IHK, besides, making Pakistan happy that it is a disputed issue yet reaffirming that both countries should resolve it bilaterally. It is likely to be a limited role Washington might be able to play. What dynamics will trigger this limited intervention? Here are set out: a) LoC gets hot up to the extent that it raises the prospect of a scary scenario like the DPRK situation which is unlikely—all indications suggest the LoC exchanges remain within contained levels; b) reaction of Kashmiris towards human rights abuses in IHK snowballing into violent incidents. In that case, India will be under huge pressure internationally to be rescued: Europeans and Japanese are already concerned of the situation on the ground; and without letting UN Observer Mission back into IHK, no one would be able to see what Delhi is up to in IHK making HR groups, concerned citizens and interested lobbies working against political incumbents; the likes of Opposition Leader, Jeremy Corbyn, in the UK and Democrats and some Republicans in the US would be asking a lot of questions about Indian abuses in IHK. In this eventuality, the US might be called upon to find a way out of the nasty situation, India is in it, c) at certain point, Pakistan gets frustrated and its back pushed against the wall (i. e having no option of falling back on proxy warfare) it may threaten to utilise its own leverages: for example, push the Taliban not to allow any US residual force in Afghanistan as President Trump is under huge pressure from the Republicans in Congress to keep some sort of military footprint—the US has pretty decided to keep a force of what it calls “anti-terror capability”— the above decision is in direct response to some Republicans at Congress who are pressurising the President to heed to the families of lost soldiers, “why the US has to hand over the keys to the same people who killed out sons and daughters even more then 3000 killed on 9//11”; d) if public opinion in Pakistan radicalises above a manageable threshold and government comes under huge pressure to respond to suffering of Kashmiris, Islamabad can up the ante leading to conceivable situation where things blow up into a limited conflict—in such case, the US will be forced to exert its pressure on India.

President Trump will be thinking hard and fast: when things get out of control, it is time to intervene. At some point, Washington will be asking itself, yes India is its leverage against China; yes, both countries have strategic and energy ties. Yet to what extend Washington should set and watch with India putting its strategic interests in jeopardy. Indeed, Trump has leverages to pressure India but so far things are not as hot as like North Korea’s example; both India and Pakistan so far has rationally acted and avoided treading up the escalation ladder. Only the situation crossing a certain threshold will likely trigger US limited mediation.

On the question of limits of what President Trump is proposing as “mediation”, it assumes less significance following the repeated clarification of the State Department toning down his offer by saying “he can only help to create conditions for bilateral dialogue”.

Realistically, Pakistan needs to think through and starts to ponder the nightmarish scenario that the US is no longer there to balancing out emerging conflicts: what India has done pretty bad things on the issue of IHK, long ignored by the lone superpower. Notwithstanding, the latest bonhomie between Islamabad and Washington, the credibility of the US is pretty shot in South Asia—no loyalty is retuned in Washington. Given the track record of Trump Administration in the last four years, Islamabad should not hold its breath expecting Washington to manage any impending crisis. Pakistan only draws limited benefit of US president’s pronouncements of mediation on IHK, I.e, only flagging of issue, an embarrassment for India and making headlines around the world.

This is time, Pakistan starts searching new ways for hedging it’s behaviour. Islamabad should not accept India’s strategic posture as it is not Russia nor it is China—disputed territory is disputed territory—this is the rule of the road: plain and simple.

Jan Achakzai is a geopolitical analyst, a politician from Balochistan, and ex-adviser to the Balochistan government on media and strategic communication. He remained associated with BBC World Service. He is also Chairman of Centre for Geo-Politics & Balochistan.

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