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December 6, 2008

The problem is in Pakistan, not Kashmir

Issue 21 - Dec 2008

Sushant K Singh

The fact is that Kashmir is no longer the epicentre of instability in South Asia. The successful conduct of assembly elections in Kashmir against the calls of the separatists is a sign of normalcy that US officials in charge of Iraq and Afghanistan would perhaps give their right arm for. Militancy and infiltration figures have dipped in the state, the ceasefire is holding and initiatives to soften borders in Kashmir by facilitating cross-border trade and movement are gaining greater traction.

There is a risk that all these gains will be lost if the new US administration shifts its focus from Afghanistan to Kashmir. Hopes of US incentives being offered on Kashmir are bound to encourage the Pakistan army to harden its stance against the current peace process with India. It will result in the Pakistani army and its jihadis cohorts controlling developments on both fronts—Afghanistan and Kashmir.
Another related idea that has been recently doing the rounds is to assuage Pakistani fears by garnering an Indian security guarantee underwritten by the United States. Yet, a better guarantee already exists, implicitly in the deterrence provided by the nuclear weapons. The idea that Pakistani army is unable to focus on insurgency due to threats of an Indian aggression is absurd when there are nuclear weapons on both sides.
A security guarantee causes a moral hazard problem. It encourages the Pakistani army to undertake another misadventure against India in Kashmir, just as a perceived guarantee of international intervention factored in Pakistan’s initiation of wars against India in 1965, 1971 and 1999. The same was at play during the recent Georgia-Russia conflict, which was instigated by the Georgians acting under the assumption of NATO or EU security guarantees.  

The road ahead
To succeed in Afghanistan, the Obama administration must initiate and see through a comprehensive reform of Pakistani army. The economic and development assistance plan, under the Biden plan, will be effective only if it is tied to this goal. Otherwise, as Jim Hoagland put it, it will merely amount to “dropping cash from helicopters.”

An objective reading of the subcontinent’s geopolitical reality suggests that Indian and US interests are closely aligned over Afghanistan. The Obama administration should court greater Indian support in Afghanistan, including facilitation of a co-operative relationship with Iran (which provides an alternative land corridor to Afghanistan). Kashmir is a red herring which could derail a emerging India-US strategic partnership. Finally, if the US does not keep India on its side in Afghanistan, then who has it left?


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