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Mainstream, Vol XLVII, No 1, December 20, 2008

On Re-Hyphenating India and Pakistan

Sunday 21 December 2008, by Ninan Koshy

At a time when New Delhi is nervously watching signals about the India policy of President-elect Barack Obama, a think-tank close to his transition team has proposed a rejection of Condoleezza Rice’s doctrine of de-hyphenating India and Pakistan, a doctrine that governed US-India relations under the Bush Administration and became the basis of the controversial India-US nuclear agreement.

The new Report by the Center for American Progress (CAP),

“Advocating a New Strategy for Prosperity and Stability in Pakistan and the Region”, is based on the premise that “Pakistan will pose one of the gravest foreign policy challenges to the incoming Obama Adminis-tration”. It is important to note that John Podesta, the President of the Center for American Progress, is the chief of the transition team of President-elect Barack Obama and was the White House Chief of Staff during the Clinton tenure.

The Report urges Obama to undertake a course correction in US policy, virtually repeating the argument put forward by Obama in one of this campaign interviews, that Pakistan’s security concerns with India should be removed so that Islamabad can help Washington in fighting the Al-Qaeda and Taliban. Affirming the need for such hyphenated India-Pakistan policy, the Report calls for a major shift in US policy towards Pakistan. “For too long, the US has pursued disconnected Afghanistan, India and Pakistan policies rather than create a coordinated regional strategy.” The Report says that any regional approach must address “Pakistan’s security concerns with India specifically related to Kashmir and Afghanistan”. According to the Report, it is Pakistan’s “fear of India” that drives its policies internally and externally leading it “to pursue nuclear weapons and to support militant groups for activities in Kashmir and Afghanistan”.

New Delhi is understandably uneasy about the references to Kashmir in the Report. Among the ‘End Goals’, prominence is given to “secure borders between Pakistan and its neighbours, with all border disputes, including Kashmir and the Durand Line (the disputed boundary between Afghanistan and Pakistan), either resolved or in a credible process of resolution”. The Kashmir issue is presented as a border dispute in the Report, ignoring or being unaware of its politics, history and even geography.

The CAP Report throws up two serious issues before New Delhi’s policy-makers. The first is re-hyphenating India and Pakistan. The second is a possible mediation by the US in the Kashmir issue.

The argument for de-hyphenation of India and Pakistan was strongly made by Condoleezza Rice in her article in the Foreign Affairs (January/February 2000) when she was a foreign policy adviser to Geroge W. Bush, campaigning for presidential election in 2000:

The USA should pay clear attention to India’s role in the regional balance. There is a strong tendency conceptually to connect India with Pakistan and think only of Kashmir or the nuclear competition between the two. But India is an element in China’s calculations and it should be in America’s too. India is not a great power yet but it has the potential to emerge as one.
The new conceptualisation connecting India with China became the official policy of the Bush Administration.

Condoleezza Rice made this clear when she visited New Delhi in March 2005 bringing the message from President Bush “that it is the policy of the United States to help India become a major world power in the 21st century”. She said:

What we are trying to do is to solidify and strengthen relations with both India and Pakistan. …If you look at it in terms of the region, what we are trying to do is to break out of the notion that this is a hyphenated relationship. ..that if anything that happens that is good for Pakistan is bad for India, and vice versa.

While it is doubtful whether the mindset either in New Delhi or Islamabad was changed, it is clear that India liked the idea of being treated by the US as an emerging “major world power” with the promise of help to attain the full status.

When earlier Pakistan was given the designation of “a major non-NATO ally”, New Delhi was not exactly pleased until it was assured that what the US had in store for India was a much greater status. The Framework Agreement between the US and India on Defence Cooperation in June 2005 and the nuclear agreement which followed—all part of the roadmap to major world power status—confirmed the de-hyphenation.

INDIA sought continuous assurance from the Bush Administration that the US relationship with India was special and it had nothing to do with Pakistan and that in no way India and Pakistan would be equated. India is a global power and wants to be treated as such, it claimed. The problem of course is that it is not often that New Delhi displays the confidence that should be natural for such a power. Hence the palpable nervousness in the government in reading and interpreting the new signals coming from Washington.

While India really liked hyphenation with China, it did not want to acknowledge that this came out of Washington assigning a place for India in the US strategy to contain China. The regular and repeated protestations from New Delhi that its alignment with the US or its allies in Asia is nothing against China may be considered a reflection of this. The latest in the series is the statement of the Indian Government after signing a security declaration with Japan in October 2008 that it was not against China. When China raised questions about the apparent emergence of a new alignment among the US, Japan, India and Australia in May 2007, the Indian Prime Minister sought to allay Chinese apprehensions by saying: “I have told Chinese President Hu Jintao that there is no question of ganging up against China.” That is what hyphenating India and China has meant to New Delhi.

The CAP Report suggests possible mediation by the US in the Kashmir issue. If de-hyphenation between India and Pakistan was used to push the India-US nuclear agreement, the same nuclear agreement is suggested to be used to re-hyphenate the two and resolve the Kashmir issue. “With a growing rapprochement between the US and India—as evidenced by the signing of a major civilian nuclear trade deal—Washington is better positioned to make the case to both countries that their interests lie in coming to a peaceful resolution in the disputed region.” The authors of the Report are not unaware of India’s refusal to accept third party intervention in Kashmir, but they believe that “the nuclear deal should remove distrust about US intentions”. What they seem to be unaware is that any US intervention in Kashmir using the nuclear agreement as a leverage will only confirm the suspicions in many quarters about US intentions regarding the deal. The Report says that “the new Administration with the help of the Congress and the international community should help both countries to move forward on Kashmir”.

The suggestion about mediation becomes all the more interesting and perhaps disconcerting to New Delhi in the light of the reports that former President Bill Clinton may be the special envoy of the US on Kashmir.

It is on record that for Bill Clinton Kashmir is ‘unfinished business’ or even an ‘unfulfilled mission’. Strobe Talbott wrote in Engaging India:
Clinton was drawn to the idea that he might help bring India and Pakistan together or at least establish for the US a relationship with both so that American diplomacy might better be able to influence them in a crisis. He had been frustrated at not having made much of a dent in US India relations during the first six years in office.

The crisis that Clinton was hoping for came with the Kargil war in 1999 which was actually ended by his intervention, surprisingly to New Delhi, in India’s favour. For Clinton the Kargil war became a convenient vehicle, fuelled by the nuclear deals which both India and Pakistan were negotiating with the US at that time, for a triumphant entry into the centre stage of Kashmir.

So he could tell press correspondents during Prime Minister Vajpayee’s visit to Washington in September 2000 that

I still hope that, if not while I am here then in the future, because of the groundwork we have laid (emphasis added), the United States can play a positive role to a peaceful resolution to the Kashmir dispute, which has been at the centre of the difficulties between India and Pakistan for more than half a century now.

That future is now present and the person who laid the groundwork is willing and ready. What more does Obama need to solve the Kashmir issue?

New Delhi need not be worried. The President-elect has stated clearly that

I also believe that India is a natural strategic partner for America in the 21st century and that the US should be working with India on a range of central issues from preventing terrorism to promoting peace and stability in Asia.

Prof Ninan Koshy is formerly a Visiting Fellow, Human Rights Programme, Harvard Law School, USA and the author of War on Terror, Reordering the World, LeftWord Books, New Delhi, 2003.

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