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TOI EDIT-Mediation Kerfuffle Trump must focus on Afghanistan and not fall for Pakistan’s Kashmir ploy

July 24, 2019 06:27 AM


Mediation Kerfuffle
Trump must focus on Afghanistan and not fall for Pakistan’s Kashmir ploy
US President Donald Trump seemingly executed a 180 degree turn from calling out Pakistan for offering nothing but “lies and deceit” in exchange for billions of dollars of American aid, to that hallucinatory moment at a White House press conference ahead of talks with visiting Pakistani PM Imran Khan, when he claimed PM Narendra Modi had asked him to mediate between India and Pakistan on Kashmir. Such “mediation” has long been sought by Pakistan, and arguably goes back to the genesis of the Kashmir issue itself as both the Kashmir insurgents and their backers in the Pakistani military are aware that they cannot oust India from Kashmir on their own. They hoped, however, that diplomacy followed by Western mediation will do the trick in this regard.

It is another matter, of course, that no Western interest is served by a Kashmir taken over by Islamist forces, or one that’s turned into another version of Afghanistan. Over the years, even the US came to see things India’s way and acknowledged Pakistan’s sponsorship of cross-border terrorism in Kashmir. Indeed the US State Department’s South central Asia bureau has finessed the Trump statement by stating that while Kashmir is a bilateral issue between India and Pakistan, the US stands by to assist if needed.

What’s likely discernible here is Trump’s familiar blow-hotblow-cold, ‘art of the deal’ strategy – which we had earlier seen applied (unsuccessfully) to North Korea’s supreme leader Kim Jong-un. Trump now needs Pakistani cooperation on Afghanistan as he prepares to pull US troops out, and to that end he lined up some carrots, including a reference to what he knows to be the Pakistani elite’s prime obsession – Kashmir. However, this gambit isn’t going to work. One, New Delhi won’t bite – it took no time to reiterate its “consistent” position on Kashmir being a bilateral matter between India and Pakistan. Two, Pakistan continues to see Afghanistan as strategic depth against India. It is likely to work to destabilise the Afghan government, as soon as the US withdraws.

This, indeed, is the greatest danger currently: Afghanistan could see a Vietnam-like implosion following US withdrawal. Islamabad would be back to its familiar cat and mouse games, while Afghanistan could again become a hotbed of Islamist militancy directed against both south Asia and the world. That is the contingency that both New Delhi and Washington must work to avoid, severally and jointly.

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