U.S. Signals Strengthened Ties with India, as Kashmir, Pakistan and Afghanistan Struggle for Normalcy

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U.S. Signals Strengthened Ties With India, as Kashmir, Pakistan and Afghanistan Struggle for Normalcy

Prof. M.M. Ali is a consultant and specialist on South Asia based in the Washington DC area. He is currently visiting the subcontinent.

Cross the Mediterranean from Europe and you have countries that still are striving to stave off the yoke of colonialism and seeking to exploit their natural resources for their own good, without external help or intervention. Sadly--as a result of the post World War I machinations of Western powers, particularly imperial Britain--their economies and their politics today are caught in a no-win situation. For the developing world, the post-World War II changes in the international balance of power have only made matters worse.

The collapse of the Soviet Union at the end of the 1980s has posed new challenges for countries in the neighborhood of China and the newly independent Central Asian republics. For understandable reasons, the subcontinent of India and Pakistan (including Afghanistan) that falls in this general region has received special attention from the United States, the lone remaining superpower. This geo-political environment offers certain natural advantages to larger India and poses difficulties for smaller Pakistan. The nuclear capability of these two developing countries lends an added dimension and significance to the region.

It is interesting that President George W. Bush, bypassing the nuances of protocol, received visiting Indian Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh in the White House on April 5, sending a clear message that the new Republican administration wishes to maintain closer ties with New Delhi. The visit was preceded by a joint Republican-Democratic congressional memorandum to the White House urging the removal of all legal impediments in U.S.-Indian relations. Pakistan was included only incidentally in the memorandum.

The memorandum also coincided with former U.S. President Bill Clinton's visit to India to raise funds for the victims of the Gujarat earthquake. It has been known for some time that Washington is under pressure from powerful corporate America to facilitate investment opportunities in the vast Indian economy. Therefore, unless New Delhi fouls things up, U.S.-Indian ties are likely to get stronger in the coming four years of the Republican administration.

For its part, Pakistan must develop strategies to work around this growing American-Indian alliance, try to extricate itself from its economic morass, while meeting the demand of donor countries and international financial institutions for the restoration of democracy. A tall order--but, with grit and statecraft, manageable. The coming months will be interesting to watch. The hopes raised for a peaceful settlement of the Kashmir dispute by India's cease-fire announcement last November, and its subsequent extension until the end of May, have now melted. It is now clearer than ever that New Delhi is using the cease-fire announcement as a way to appease American pressure to settle the issue and also to keep the Kashmiris in good humor and Pakistan at bay. Its policy vis-a-vis Kashmir has not in fact changed. Indian military forces have continued to maintain their stranglehold on Kashmir. However, Delhi allows elements inside and outside the occupied state to flirt with different theories and options for the resolution of the dispute which has caused two wars to be fought between India and Pakistan during the last 54 years.

An old idea again afloat calls for Azad Kashmir, Gilgit and Baltistan to remain under Pakistani control (as they are now) for the next 10 years, and Jammu and Ladakh to remain with India (as they are now) for the next 10 years, with the Valley to be under a U.N. trusteeship--again, for 10 years. The future of the entire State of Jammu and Kashmir, according to this plan, would be decided after the intervening decade.

This formula reportedly has the approval of Washington and is being floated through non-official Kashmiri sources. …