August 09, 2020
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Us, Them And The Us

The US is clear that it will not mediate, but there are fears in India that it could end up doing so

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Us, Them And The Us
The euphoria over the Clinton-Sharif statement, initially seen as a major diplomatic shot in the arm for India, has passed. Leaving several disturbing questions in its wake. Does this sudden US support for India's "restraint" have strings attached? Does it give Washington a handle on India vis-a-vis the ctbt and wto? Will Bill Clinton's "personal interest" translate into US mediation, or even intervention in Kashmir? In other words, has Kashmir finally been internationalised?

To be sure, the State Department and the President are distancing themselves from any mediatory role in Kargil or the larger Kashmir issue. Analysts there too concur that the US shouldn't involve itself beyond aiding Indo-Pak dialogue.

The semantic jugglery is necessitated by the phrase "personal interest", which leaves room for interpretation. A State Department official was forced to mark out this minimal position, "We are not being pulled in as a mediator. We are aware of people's desire to have us involved, but we know we won't be able to do anything if both parties don't want us."

Stephen Cohen of Brookings Institution takes it forward: "The US has a specific role between the two sides-facilitating. There is such a thing as a facilitator without being a mediator." Michael Krepon of the Henry L. Stimson Center agrees with the distinction: "It's about trying to be helpful in the context of a bilateral framework." That's the message Islamabad has received not just from Washington but from Beijing, London, Moscow, and the EU, he notes.

Leo Rose of the University of California, Berkeley, says it's "interesting" that both the US and China have carefully avoided the idea of mediation in deference to New Delhi. "Mediators try to set the lines and terms of a settlement and try to get the parties to agree to these. A facilitator wouldn't set terms. This role would be better for the US," he says.

A dissenting note was struck by Prof Robert Wirsing of the University of South Carolina, author of India, Pakistan and the Kashmir Dispute. He believes the US has acquired the status of a mediator. "This (the Kargil conflict) will be dragged out with a formal additional participant in Washington. You may not call it mediation, but facilitation is mediation. Kargil has given gains that Siachen never acquired," he said.

Wirsing, in fact, believes that bilateralism "has no life left in it" because of the asymmetrical power balance between India and Pakistan, with the weakening of Pakistani economy. He insists that without a US role as "something akin to a mediator, there was virtually no possibility of resolution".

Cohen feels the US had taken up the South Asian conflict "a little late in the game" and an active policy earlier on might have pre-empted the present crisis. "We were obsessed with getting India to sign the ctbt instead of focusing on Kashmir, we let the deeper issues slide." In any case, Cohen says India may not be able to resolve problems with Pakistan on its own when Islamabad could provoke a crisis any time. "It seems others will get involved. And when India went overtly nuclear, it became everybody's interest. New Delhi can't complain now if they get the attention," he adds.

But the State Department insists the Sharif-Clinton meet "doesn't mean the US is inserting itself into the process". He cites conflicts where other parties help resolve a crisis without mediating. Senior White House officials stress that Clinton's "personal interest" was part of his ongoing monitoring of the South Asian situation.

"From the beginning, the President recognised it as a very serious situation, one that had the danger of wider escalation," says an administration official. His 'personal' efforts began with the June 14 call to A.B. Vajpayee and next day to Sharif. While on his Kosovo-related Europe trip, Clinton continued his contact with the two through a series of messages and lower-level interactions, like the Sandy Berger-Brajesh Mishra meeting in Geneva. The joint statement merely reiterates this interest, says the White House.

State Department officials insist that no quid pro quo is expected from India for US support. "India has moved in a moderate way with significant restraint despite the casualties. Why would US want a quid pro quo?" asks one. "India is a big kid now and it's playing with the big kids. You don't play quid pro quo games at this level. People don't want to accept that India has 'made it'." India's restraint in not crossing the LoC, in their view, is quid pro quo enough in the face of provocation and the US is "not looking for an advantage to get something either in terms of the ctbt or anything else".

Krepon feels that once the Kargil chapter is over, the world will expect India and Pakistan to resume talks and "it's clear to all that India has to take the initiative. There's no quid pro quo but an expectation that India step up to the plate." Washington took a very favourable position vis-a-vis India, "for obvious reasons. Nobody wants to give Pakistan the idea it could do what it did and nobody wants India to go over the LoC. The US position has a very clear logic to it. There's no deal-making. It doesn't work," Krepon says.

Whatever the US expectations, Cohen says, "If India does not begin talking on Kashmir, we may have another crisis of this kind-it depends on personalities in Pakistan." Kargil and Kashmir are the same issue. The reason for Kargil, he notes, "was to get Indians to discuss Kashmir as the Pakistani army felt India was not being serious about Kashmir. So they found a soft spot...and also a revenge for Siachen".

Washington is clear that the reference to the '72 status on the LoC in the Clinton-Sharif joint statement in no way requires India to vacate Siachen. "Absolutely not, because the designation of the LoC stops at Siachen," says an official.

Then, there's the question of Pakistani withdrawal, the crux of the statement. While the US is looking for movement "soon", some believe Islamabad will drag it out. Woodrow Wilson Scholar Selig Harrison dismisses as "nonsense" Islamabad's plea that its writ does not run with the mujahideen, and adds that it is "Pakistan (which) won't want to withdraw abruptly".

Coming to Washington was Sharif's way of showing he could get something from the US and to show he still had a grip on the situation, analysts contend. His aim was to survive by gaining a little leverage with the military and the backing of the US, they believe. Now Sharif had some kind of a fig-leaf for international mediation to cover up a military defeat, even though Washington has not offered any verbal support for this. The post-facto justification that Islamabad had somehow internationalised the issue was a fallback position for the miscalculation.

Harrison says Kargil was planned by Pakistan's chief of general staff, Lt Gen Mohammed Aziz. "He was the architect," and since the fundamentalist sections in the army did not like the Lahore agreement, "this was a good way to undermine it," he says.

The only leverage Washington has, says Harrison, is economic and this, he feels, was raised by Clinton. The economic argument is also Sharif's strongest one as he fights for survival, says Harrison. The imf approved renewed funding for Pakistan in May and the next tranche is scheduled to come up for discussion in August.

There is an all-round holding pattern to see how the power struggle in Pakistan plays out. Sharif's trip to Beijing and Washington had briefly strengthened his position vis-a-vis his own military, analysts surmise. At the same time, Musharraf's brinksmanship got Islamabad what it sought-Chinese and the US involvement. But as for the US mediating, says Rose, "I don't think there's anything to mediate. India isn't going to discuss anything substantive on Kashmir, not before the polls. I suspect Sharif knew before he came here what he was going to be asked. So I'm not sure we did any mediating".

In India, again, there are fears on what the US role really implies. Shankar Bajpai, former ambassador to the US, Pakistan and China, feels India has been "rather naive in its assessment of the declaration". India, he says, "can expect US pressure on the ctbt and wto regardless of this crisis". More crucially, he adds, "even those who recognise that Pakistan engineered this crisis also believe that India needs to make concessions on Kashmir. In fact, we now have a more intractable diplomatic problem than we did before Kargil erupted."

"In a sense," says Kamal Mitra Chenoy of jnu, "the Americans have already intervened, and this will continue. As the ctbt deadline nears, we can expect more and more interest in Kashmir". Chenoy, in fact, believes "Kashmir was internationalised long before Kargil, with Pokhran II", and Clinton's "personal interest" is but a logical culmination of the global focus the N-tests have brought.

Writer Arvind N. Das says internationalisation of Kashmir was "inevitable under this regime, which has accepted a unipolar world". He says India, hitherto a champion of a multi-polar world, has "reversed its position by accepting the US as global policeman."

But, says jnu's Chintamani Mahapatra, "There are two ways of understanding the word internationalisation. One is an event that is known globally. The other is when the global community is actively engaged in conflict resolution. Kosovo ceased to be a bilateral issue the moment nato got involved. In that sense, Kashmir hasn't been internationalised."

Das, however, wouldn't be surprised if there is eventually a "Kosovo-isation" of Kashmir. He raises another point. "Who armed the mujahideen? Who armed the Pakistanis?" He describes France's sale of Mirages to Pakistan and Japan's intransigence over sanctions as "the mystery of our diplomatic success". Mahapatra warns that those who feel this marks an upturn in Indo-US ties "are living in a fool's paradise". Says he, "I would consider this growing belief that by branding Pakistan as aggressor the US has given us some sort of certificate, is actually a sort of an insult. Here we have thousands of intruders occupying our territory and instead of doing whatever we can to get it back, we are happy at being hailed for our restraint. "

Bajpai feels the route from Kargil leads to Kashmir. "The Sharif-Clinton statement seems favourable to us. But it also crystallised the Kashmir dilemma. We must understand that sooner or later we have to discuss Kashmir. The Washington agreement actually precipitated the challenge, and it puts on us the burden of convincing the world, including Pakistan, that yes, we'll discuss Kashmir."

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