12 December 2009

"The Limits of Influence - America's role in Kashmir" by Howard B Schaffer

Howard B Schaffer was Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for US twice; and political counselor in US embassies in Pakistan and later in India in the seventies.  In this book, Schaffer provides an analysis of US role in Kashmir from an insider’s perspective.

Schaffer seems to sincerely believe that United States can fashion its policies based on its interests; but other countries should fashion theirs based on principles!  Unfortunately interest driven policy often produces tactical wins and strategic losses.  Schaffer is quiet about acknowledging the strategic failure of US policy toward Pakistan; and the threat this has created for US and South Asia and vociferous about India's intransigence in not conforming to "equity".

There is no equity about a partition forced by faulty thinking of a colonial ruler.  (Am not one of those who decline to accept partition. I am glad it happened).  Let us get back to basics!  Partition did not create a separate nation for all muslims!  After partition, India continued to remain home to a large population of Muslims spread throughout India.  There is no equity about Pakistan's claim to Kashmir.

Pakistan sees itself as the nation representing muslims in the subcontinent.  India sees itself as a multicultural and multi-religious nation.  It does not accept religion-based majority as sufficient for separation.

Pakistan is going back in time with Military dictators usurping power from weak civilian governments; feudal lords dominating economic assets; fundamentalists hijacking a peaceful religion to deny equality to women; education to young and membership in the Ulema to minority sects amongst Muslims.  India, on the other hand, has a stable and institutionalized democracy; civil liberties; rule of law; modern education; and religious tolerance.

George Washington and Thomas Jefferson would have preferred India over Pakistan.

Not John Foster Dulles.  He saw (at the advice of an equally myopic Philip Noel-Baker of Britain) in Pakistan a “strategic ally” to be the frontline warrior against communism.  More importantly he alienated India by taking a Eurocentric view that Goa is a province of Portugal and resenting India taking control of its land from the colonial ruler.   Dulles ended up supporting a state that does not share American values of liberty, freedom, equality and plurality and was just clever enough to feign anti-communism to get access to American funds. This put US under pressure to, wherever possible, support Pakistan in the Kashmir dispute and in the genocide in Bangladesh.

It was India’s tactical alliance (again driven by interests than principles) with Moscow that saved the United Nations from getting hijacked by friends of Pakistan to resolve the Kashmir issue against India’s interest.

Later, US had to pursue a fine balancing act between its obligations to support Pakistan and wider geopolitical objectives with India.  US acquired a “morally unassailable ability” to remain in sidelines only after Pakistan concluded an agreement with India, replacing the UN defined cease fire line with a bilaterally defined Line of Control and agreeing to resolve Kashmir issue in bilateral discussions.

Pakistan did become an important frontline state in the cold war eventually.  US scored a tactical victory against the Russians using Pakistan. But the strategic price US had to pay is quite heavy:  (a) acquiescence in the development of nuclear bombs by Pakistan and (b) creation of jehadi warriors who are willing to die and therefore limitlessly powerful in killing.

After India and Pakistan exploded their nuclear devices, Schaffer confesses “the importance attached by US to the equities of the Kashmir issue were lessened”.  Preventing escalation is now in US interests.  Lack of US support (and in fact US opposition) encouraged Pakistan to withdraw from an aggressive posture in Kargil.

Pakistan again became important to the US after 9/11.  Pakistan rediscovered the business model of sustaining insurgency in Kashmir.  Schaffer says “Pakistan is delivering the goods in Afghanistan and insurgency in Kashmir did not pose an immediate threat to US interests”.

I have no issue with Schaffer in thinking US should pursue its interests for tactical wins!

What I find unacceptable is Schaffer’s belief that India should act based on equities of Kashmir issue and not based on its interests!  In my view, India too is entitled to advancing its interests by what India considers appropriate strategic or tactical responses.

It is in India's interest to develop a greater bonding with the US through interlinking the two economies.  US would keep its business interests (apart from political interests) in mind in shaping its policies.  In addition to clever pursuit of interests, this would be wise pursuit of principles too!

Additionally, it is in India’s interests to make peace with Kashmiris first; make it advantageous for them to be a part of India.  It is in India’s interests to protect the Indian state.  Against insurgencies exported from neighborhood.  It is in India’s interest to make peace with Pakistan.  Prosperity would facilitate this unity.

The best US can do is to not engage but be available.  That would be clever pursuit of interests; and good principle.

1 comment:

Karthik Sankaranarayanan said...

It's very interesting that Howard Schaffer would say that because, if I remember correctly, his own wife Ambassador Teresita Schaffer (at recent discussion on Af-Pak at Brookings) said that history shows that almost no country in the world can take the moral-high ground in geo-politics.

Having said that, I think the time has come where it is in India's own interest to not let the Kashmir issue foster any longer. Unlike our relationship with China, where bilateral progress is being made by keeping tougher issues in the backburner, with Pakistan, it'd be in our wider interests to address Kashmir (also given that it is a such an emotive issue for the Pakistani public and a chest-thumping issue for the govt).

Excellent blog!