US mediation

13 Aug 2020

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THE thought of getting the US or other world powers involved in improving the sticky Pakistan-India relationship is attractive, especially when bilateral efforts keep reaching a dead end. However, experience and history teach us that America or other ‘influential’ states are not very interested in jumping into the boiling cauldron of South Asian regional politics, and peace will only come to this region when states themselves are ready for it. In this context, the foreign secretary on Tuesday brought up the Pakistan-India relationship with the American undersecretary of state for political affairs. As quoted in the media, the foreign secretary told the American diplomat that there was a need “to take steps to prevent escalation of tensions and to facilitate peaceful resolution of the Jammu and Kashmir dispute”.

While the government’s sentiment to get Washington involved in order to resolve South Asia’s bitterest dispute must be appreciated, some ground realities ought to be considered. Ever since independence, America has hardly rushed forward to end the hostility between Pakistan and India. In fact, when it comes to this relationship, the US has only intervened during times of extreme crisis, for example during the Kargil fiasco. Moreover, even if the US did come round to committing itself to playing peacemaker in South Asia, the fact is with an election looming in November, no US candidate will have the appetite to commit to this role. Facilitating diplomatic engagement between Pakistan and India is no easy task, and both major parties in the US will be too preoccupied with their own domestic issues to spend time and energy on South Asian peace. Also, during an election year, and with a highly active Indian-American lobby, candidates will be looking to grab as many votes as possible, especially from racial/ethnic blocs, instead of launching risky diplomatic initiatives in a highly unstable region. If at all, Pakistan should pursue American mediation after the results of the presidential elections are announced.

Secondly, mediation will only work when the other ‘aggrieved party’ — India in this case — is willing to listen to a facilitator. The BJP-led right-wing government that rules New Delhi has hardly gushed over the thought of making peace with Pakistan, and has in fact rebuffed this country’s efforts. Moreover, India’s standard, rigid line is that Kashmir is a ‘bilateral’ dispute, and that third-party mediation in this regard is unwelcome. If this is the attitude, how can facilitation succeed? By all means world powers should use their influence with New Delhi to push it towards peace. But Pakistan should be realistic and not depend on others to improve its ties with India. The best bet would be to prevent bilateral relations from deteriorating further until a more approachable government takes power in India, without compromising on Pakistan’s principled stand on Kashmir.

Published in Dawn, August 13th, 2020