Kashmir Blip On US Radar
4 January 2005
New Delhi: As the second US Administration headed by President George Bush prepares to take charge, think tanks closely associated with the American establishment are putting together their inputs for crucial issues related to foreign policy and security affairs. In the American system, think tanks are often commissioned by the various wings of the Administration to prepare policy reports. These reports are dovetailed with overall political objectives and, more often than not, inputs received from think tanks form critical components of policy. Seen from this perspective, a new report released by Rand, a conservative think tank known for its over-arching influence on the framing of America's domestic and foreign policies, provides an interesting insight into the possible thinking of an all new State Department headed by Condoleezza Rice. The 152-page report, 'The Counterterror Coalitions: Cooperation with Pakistan and India', by C Christine Fair, is part of Rand's larger, commissioned ongoing work, PAF - or Project Air Force. Through this project, Rand hopes to trigger critical policy initiatives and strategic policy shifts to cope with America's homeland and external security concerns post- 9-11. More importantly, the report connects three dots - the USA, India and Pakistan - in a triangular, or trilateral, relationship that rests on a fulcrum called Kashmir. Therefore, it adds more than a blip on America's radar screen of immediate external concerns that should, commonsense and conventional wisdom would suggest, zero in and firmly focus on Iraq, Afghanistan and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The report is premised on the view that 'after September 11, 2001, Pakistan and India (have) played critical, albeit different, roles in US counter-terrorism operations in Afghanistan and elsewhere'. The 'elsewhere' of the theatre of US counter- terrorism operations remains delightfully vague and undefined. Pakistan's role has been described as providing the USA with 'access to bases, ports, and air space' and permitting 'special forces and agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation to track down al Qaeda and Taliban fugitives inside Pakistan'. India's contribution has been listed as providing 'intelligence, naval escorts through the Strait of Malacca, and diplomatic and political support to the US'. But such assistance by itself is not sufficient, according to Rand, for scoring a total American victory in the war against terrorism that the USA has been waging since 9-11 with doubtful and dubious success. For that, foreign policies of both India and Pakistan must be influenced, either gently or by coercion, to serve American foreign policy objectives. Or else, American objectives shall be undermined. Hence, the report asserts that 'although both countries can continue to make positive contributions to US counter-terrorism efforts, policy decisions by each state have the potential to seriously interfere with US operations in Afghanistan and the war on terrorism generally. This is especially true in light of the ongoing dispute between Pakistan and India over Kashmir and its potential to erupt into conflict.' In its preamble to the report, Rand says Project Air Force 'studied the roles that Pakistan and India will likely play in future US counter-terrorism strategy and identified policy options that the United States might pursue to ensure continued cooperation by each country'. Based on its study, Rand lists three 'major findings': * Pakistan is an important - but uncertain - partner in counter-terrorism. Pakistan remains unwilling to jettison its active role in supporting, training, guiding, and launching militant operations in Indian-held Kashmir and elsewhere. This support directly challenges US interests in diminishing the capacity of terrorist organisations and degrading their force projection capabilities. Moreover, Pakistan's prosecution of a low intensity conflict with Indian-held Kashmir has exacerbated New Delhi's vexation with Islamabad. Pakistan is unlikely to ease its policy of supporting militants until the major sources of conflict with India are resolved, most prominently the disputed disposition of Kashmir. * India is a long-term partner in counter-terrorism. Cooperation is fostered by the natural overlap between India's core strategic interests and those of the United States. Equally important, India can contribute to US efforts by not militarily challenging Pakistan while Pakistani forces are needed for operations on the eastern border with Afghanistan. Nevertheless, India is not likely to follow US policy in every instance. New Delhi is less inclined to give Islamabad the strategic and political space it needs to stop supporting militants. India also chose not to participate in Operation Iraqi Freedom. In the long run, however, India will continue to share many US interests and will continue to play an important role in the war against terrorism. * Kashmir poses a serious challenge to the counter-terrorism coalition. Without effective diplomacy to resolve the conflict, the ongoing dispute over Kashmir is likely to frustrate and complicate US efforts to pursue bilateral relations with Pakistan and India. Both states will consistently depend upon the United States and others to acquire exit strategies from an escalating conflict, to compel the adversary to make concessions, and to find political and diplomatic support. These factors suggest that some kind of US intervention in the region may be beneficial for all. Based on these 'findings', Rand's Project Air Force has identified five policy options that the United States may consider in crafting its policy in this region: * Maintain the status quo. The United States may continue its bilateral relations and play the role of crisis manager on an as needed basis. * Take an active role in resolving the Kashmir dispute. This policy would complicate bilateral relations in the short term, but the long-term benefits could be worthwhile. * Completely disengage from the Indo-Pakistani conflict. This approach would deprive Pakistan and India of a convenient exit strategy, leading either to a de-escalation of the conflict or to the emergence of new paths to escalation. * Explicitly side with India. In the long term, India's interests may be more consonant with those of the United States than Pakistan's. This approach would seek to 'contain' Pakistan while expanding the USA's strategic relationship with India. * Side with Pakistan on the Kashmir issue and other security concerns pertaining to India. This approach would seek to endow Pakistan with the security it needs to ease its policy of supporting militants against India. The strategy assumes that over time, India and the United States would remain close as 'natural allies'. Since Rand is specifically concerned with providing policy inputs aimed at safeguarding American interests, which must, by definition, be independent of Indian - or, for that matter, Pakistani - interests, it would be incorrect to fault the report for being cynical in its suggestion of policy options. On the contrary, dispassionate objectivity would find them remarkably free of either subjective or ideological bias. No regime favours the status quo; it is unlike the second Bush Administration will meekly persist with policies and follies of the previous four years, especially in the realm of foreign affairs and defence. This is more so because Condoleezza Rice would want to chart a course independent of that followed by her predecessors Colin Powell and Madeleine Albright. She's the kind who would happily rock the boat. The manner in which the USA has been mollycoddling Pakistan in the mistaken belief that money and weapons for General Pervez Musharraf and his army can stave off Islamic fanatics, has raised more than a hackle in 'natural ally' India. Persisting with that policy, seen from New Delhi's perspective, can only fetch Washington further sorrow. But the USA's perspective need not necessarily coincide with that of India. The second Bush Administration may decide to accept Rand's fifth recommendation and 'side with Pakistan on the Kashmir issue and other security concerns pertaining to India'. That is a possibility which can be wished away only by those in India's foreign office who have been busy playing the role of corporate communicators of American arms manufacturers while doubling up as protectors of India's national interests.