Worldview with Suhasini Haidar | Diplomatic Dominos: Kashmir and Afghanistan endgame

Worldview with Suhasini Haidar | Diplomatic Dominos: Kashmir and Afghanistan endgame

Diplomatic Affairs Editor Suhasini Haidar takes a deep dive into the Jammu and Kashmir issue and how foreign policy meets domestic policy

In this episode of Worldview, our Diplomatic Affairs Editor Suhasini Haidar takes a deeper look at a very interesting debate on an area where foreign policy meets domestic policy.

This week, Prime Minister Modi invited 14 leaders from Jammu and Kashmir to discuss the road forward on democracy and elections among other things.

While this is a purely internal process, it is important to set it in a regional context and developments in the neighbourhood as well.

Afghanistan

  • The U.S. has expedited its pullout from Afghanistan which was due to be done by September. More than half its remaining 3,500 troops are already out and bases are being handed over to the ANSF.
  • The Taliban has stepped up its attacks and since the beginning of May, the UN estimates more than 50 of Afghanistan’s 370 districts have fallen to the Taliban. Violence against civilians has grown 29% in the first quarter of 2021 compared to the same period last year.
  • The U.S.’s plans for an Istanbul talks have been dropped, there are no talks in Doha and the U.S. is increasingly leaning on Pakistan to push the Taliban towards a working deal of some sort before it pulls out all troops. President Biden’s invitation to President Ghani to Washington this week is also part of the push for a deal. 

Also read | A perpetual war: On dilemmas of ending U.S’s ‘forever war’ in Afghanistan

Pakistan

  • Pakistan’s military is now eyeing the prospect of the Taliban, its allies in power in Kabul, but equally has an eye on whether its violence will spill over into Pakistan as it did two decades ago.
  • Pakistan has been under pressure from Indian threats of retaliation like the Uri strikes and the Balakot strikes, if terror attacks increase in India.
  • Pakistan has faced immense economic pressure from the Financial Action Task force on cracking down on terror groups like the Al Qaeda, Taliban, LeT and JeM. Some estimates say that during the period from 2018, when it was last put on a greylist, Pakistan’s police have arrested and convicted atleast 27 UN designated terrorists and associates and seized about 1000 properties of the LeT and JeM alone, which has led to a downturn in cross border infiltration and attacks in Jammu and Kashmir.
  • In February this year, Pakistan and India signed a ceasefire commitment agreement that appears to be connected to the back channel dialogue process. This has meant a considerable climbdown for Pakistan which earlier said talks could only follow a reversal of the August 2019 decisions, and now has said talks are possible if India provides a roadmap to resolving Jammu and Kashmir.

Also read | Chasing peace: On allowing Taliban to share power in Afghanistan

China

  • China has strengthened its ties with Pakistan, particularly over the China Pakistan Economic Corridor, as well as military ties.
  • China has stepped up aggression at the LAC in Ladakh with India, since it amassed its troops there since April 2020, which led to the deadly Galwan clashes, and has now hardened its position in talks on disengagement.
  • China is also increasingly involved in Afghanistan diplomacy, as a part of the US-Russia-China-Pakistan Troika Plus grouping, and has a watchful eye on regional security given its own worries about separatism in Xinjiang province.
  • For India, all this has meant that the threat of a 2-front situation, as described by the Army Chief, will mean that any future conflict with China, will bring the risk of conflict with Pakistan, and vice versa, any conflict along the Line of Control with Pakistan, will bring the threat of China too. Home Minister Amit Shah’s contention that the government is willing to sacrifice lives to reclaim PoK and Aksai China has just become that much more difficult to carry out.

What does this all mean for Jammu and Kashmir, after the government’s moves in 2019 to amend article 370, split the state into two and imposed a tight security regime. India has repeatedly asserted  this is purely an internal matter.

Here is where it meets India’s external diplomacy:

  • Both the U.S. Biden administration and UN special rapporteurs have been nudging India to restore what they call normalcy, end the political detentions, stop internet shutdowns quite publicly.
  • The J&K dispute, which had not been touched by the UNSC since the 1972 Simla agreement, has now been discussed on three occasions since 2019, mainly on Chinese prompting. It has also been discussed in the U.S. congress, and European parliaments, even as the government has undertaken a series of visits by diplomats to Jammu and Kashmir.
  • Other countries, including U.K., U.A.E., Saudi Arabia have also pushed for India-Pakistan talks on Kashmir.
  • For the U.S. this has added deadline urgency as it would not want conflict in Kashmir to affect its Afghan pullout plans, and would like Pakistan to help its plans for a deal with the Taliban. India’s talks with Pakistan, talks with Taliban, and talks in Kashmir are thus not unlinked.
  • in the late 1980s and early 1990s, as the U.S. helped Pakistan train Mujahideen to defeat the Soviets in Afghanistan, it tried to push India on human rights issues in Jammu and Kashmir. In 2009, when President Obama first announced the U.S. pullout, he sent special envoy Richard Holbrooke to try and link moves in Kashmir with Afghanistan and was rebuffed. This time, it has been special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad making similar rounds, although he has publicly not mentioned Kashmir but U.S. State department pointperson for South Asia Dean Thompson said in a congressional hearing this month that New Delhi has taken some steps such as the release of prisoners and the restoration of 4G internet access in Kashmir but , “there are other electoral steps” the U.S. like to see India take and that the U.S. has “encouraged them to do and will continue to do so.”

All of this eventually means that while the government’s moves in Jammu and Kashmir are India’s internal policy to make, they will always come under intense international scrutiny, and are linked to the intricate game of dominoes in an increasingly tense neighbourhood.

Book recommendations:

  • The Great Game in Afghanistan: Rajiv Gandhi, General Zia and the Unending War, by Kallol Bhattacherjee
  • Obama’s wars: The Inside story by Bob Woodward
  • Kashmir: the Vajpayee Years by AS Dulat
  • Durand’s curse by Rajiv Dogra

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