Let us for a moment set aside India’s consistent and near visceral rejection of any global mediation in general and U.S. mediation in particular in its dispute with Pakistan over Kashmir. Even if we consider it, as being reportedly sought by Pakistan’s visiting Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, for the sake of argument, there is a fundamental problem with that approach. America’s record in conflict resolution around the world has not been particularly inspiring.
It is true that every time the U.S. gets involved in a conflict either as a mediator or a direct intervener there is a certain amount of heightened expectation that builds around a potentially positive outcome but , more often than not, it gets belied soon enough. That failure, of course, may have as much to do with the inherently intractable nature of the conflict as with the limits of U.S. power and strategic interest in it.
It is from this standpoint that I find it amusing that Sharif should feel compelled to call on Washington to mediate over Kashmir. "With its growing influence in India, the US now has the capacity to do more to help the two sides resolve their core disputes, including Kashmir, and in promoting a culture of cooperation," Sharif has been quoted by the Press Trust of India (PTI) as telling a think tank in Washington.
It is also ironic for Sharif to think of Washington as a mediator over Kashmir even as he severely complains about the Obama administration’s relentless drone strikes on targets in the northwest of the country which often kill innocent civilians.
In any case, it takes no particular intelligence to know that when it comes to Kashmir, there is no influence strong enough to persuade India beyond what it regards as its territorial, strategic, cultural, political and even emotional interests. The U.S. can certainly try and lean on India but it is quite aware of the instant pushback from New Delhi.
Washington has its own highly complicated relationship with Islamabad to attend to in the aftermath of the May 2, 2011 Navy SEAL operation that killed Osama bin Laden. A large number of people in Pakistan saw this as clear violation of its sovereignty and those reverberations still continue to be felt refreshed by the drone strikes.
I am not entirely certain if there exists any political goodwill that the Obama administration can draw upon to both repair its relationship with Pakistan even while stretching itself over into the Kashmir issue. India’s foreign ministry, still quaintly called the external affairs ministry, knows all too well about the challenges the State Department faces in making itself heard around the world.
In the absence of such goodwill, the best the U.S. can do is use financial aid in the form of security and economic assistance as the lubricant to calm the squeaky diplomatic discourse. In the run-up to Sharif’s meeting with President Barack Obama today, the State Department has announced that it will release $1.6 billion in such assistance that was frozen because of the strained relations.
As a congenital pacifist, I am always for peace over conflict. I am willing to be optimistic about India-Pakistan relations despite the overwhelming and historic evidence to the contrary. That said, I doubt if U.S. mediation can really be part of any mix to resolve it.
And now, as I often do, I must take a cheap shot. Although Sharif’s handlers had steadfastly denied ever having used the term, there were media reports that during his recent visit to New York to attend the U.N. General assembly he had sarcastically called India’s Prime Minister Manmohan Singh a “dehati aurat” (a peasant woman). The reference was supposed to have been used to describe how an unlettered, helpless peasant woman might run to someone she perceives to be powerful with any and all her woes. Dr. Singh had reportedly told Obama to help rein in Pakistan over the question of supporting terrorism in India. So even though the expression “dehati aurat” was apparently never used by Sharif, the definition of a cheap shot prompts me ask this question: “Who is a dehati aurat now?”