Countering Trump’s Initiative on Kashmir

It has taken one month for United States President Donald Trump to go from claiming Prime Minister Narendra Modi had asked him to mediate on Kashmir to declaring it was a matter best left for India and Pakistan to resolve on their own. New Delhi can pat itself for beating off yet another unwanted diplomatic advance, and this time, from a man with a reputation. But Mr Trump’s Kashmir initiative was relatively easy to abort. Trump has more interest in Greenland than in Kashmir. His concern for the Valley is a by-product of a desire for a Nobel Peace Prize, not regional peace. Trump is erratic enough that he may raise the idea again, but actual US policy has, and remains, married to the idea that Kashmir is a bilateral issue.

India’s greater challenge is that more international efforts to undo its new Kashmir policy will be launched. These will not be as easily neutralised as Trump was. One set will be driven by human rights concerns, citing the imposition of curfew and the detention of Kashmiri politicians. At present, these are being held at bay by New Delhi’s promise that life will return to normal, elections will be held, and even statehood restored. The real danger will be if there is bloodshed and a spiral of violence. That will generate immense pressure on India to reverse its policy path. Another set of efforts, sponsored by Pakistan and China, will seek to delegitimise India’s sovereignty over Kashmir and seek to force New Delhi to dialogue with Islamabad in circumstances in which latter will have the upper hand.

It is important to realise that ultimately Modi’s new policy will make even the “Kashmir is a bilateral issue” trope obsolete. The move to integrate Jammu and Kashmir more closely into the Union will leave no role for Pakistan. Kashmir will become a unilateral concern of India’s, and if there will be anything to discuss, it will solely be the terrorism infrastructure Pakistan maintains. This new status quo will take time for the international community to accept and India’s large neighbours are already putting up as much interference as they can. Deep sixing Trump’s mediation effort may come to be seen as relatively minor accomplishment if the domestic Kashmir policy starts to go off the rails. New Delhi must brace for further unwanted attention regarding Kashmir, but recognise that its ultimate defence will lie in what it does on the home front.

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