One of the continuing signs of India’s lack of confidence is that saying the word “Kashmir” in an international forum results in near hysteria among the Indian chattering classes. The recent comments by the new United States ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, were a case in point. Haley never mentioned the word “mediation” nor, for that matter, the word “Kashmir” in her answer to a question. She spoke largely about the US being prepared to be pro-active in preventing any conflict between India and Pakistan. At best, this was a set of ad hoc comments that were open to interpretation. The US has intervened in the past to prevent conflict between the two countries – it played a key role in ending the Kargil conflict and did so in a manner that favoured India. However, this is hardly the same thing as mediation.
The nature of US involvement in the Kashmir dispute has evolved over time. The first and most interventionist phase, lasting until the early 1960s, saw Washington actively use the United Nations or unilateral actions to force India and Pakistan to the table – and then use its diplomatic leverage to find a common language. This legacy still haunts the Indian imagination, even though it came to a close over a half-century ago. For the next quarter of a century the US largely lost interest in Kashmir, preferring to tighten its alliance with Pakistan for other strategic reasons. The flare-up in Indo-Pakistan tensions during the Kashmiri secessionist violence of the late 1980s shifted the US to a crisis management posture. Nuclearisation further enforced the sense that the primary US interest was one of preserving stability. While the possibility of mediating a Kashmir settlement was never given up as a means to achieve that stability, the US granted veto power to each of the protagonists concerned. The recent advent of global Islamic terror and the transformation in Indo-US relations has meant a further strengthening of the view that the US role was crisis-handling, but a genuine solution was a bilateral issue. Haley’s comments are fully in line with such a policy.
Ultimately, the simple truth is India is now too large an economic and military power to be told what to do on an issue like Kashmir by even the sole superpower. Even the odd time a US president, notably Barack Obama when he was first elected, floats the idea of playing a mediatory role – it is routinely zapped by New Delhi and disappears from the ether. Kashmir mediation is a dead horse and it is time Indians stopped flogging themselves with the belief it can come back from the grave.