‘US should resist itch to mediate between India and Pakistan’

If Washington “must inject itself” into the situation, it “should lean on Pakistan to rid itself of its jihadi instruments so that the United States does not become an accessory to Rawalpindi’s strategy of extortionary engagement”, says Ashley Tellis.
A Pakistani Ranger in black uniform and his Indian counterpart at the joint Pakistan-India border check post of Wagah near Lahore. AP photo(AP File)
A Pakistani Ranger in black uniform and his Indian counterpart at the joint Pakistan-India border check post of Wagah near Lahore. AP photo(AP File)
Updated on Sep 21, 2017 07:50 PM IST
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New York, Hindustan Times | ByYashwant Raj, New York

The United States should not entertain thoughts about inserting itself into the India-Pakistan conflict with a misplaced expectation of effecting a benign result, and should give up routinely exhorting the two South Asian neighbours to talk, a leading South Asia expert has suggested.

If it “must inject itself” into the situation, it “should lean on Pakistan to rid itself of its jihadi instruments so that the United States does not become an accessory to Rawalpindi’s strategy of extortionary engagement”, Ashley Tellis said in a new report, referring to the city that hosts the Pakistani military’s headquarters.

In the report, Tellis talks constantly about two centres of power in Pakistan, the other being Islamabad, home to civilian authority that has been held by men in uniforms for long enough to be called Rawalpindi Extension.

The report comes at time when there has been some renewed interest in the notion — and not strictly in the administration —that the United States could coax a peace settlement out of the two nuclear powers engaged in an intractable, complex dispute that has evaded resolution for decades.

“My purpose in writing the report was really to make the larger point that US policy makers often lose sight of: that India-Pakistan differences are not as negotiable as is sometimes thought because they are rooted in deep-seated grievances that Pakistan cannot easily let go of,” Tellis told Hindustan Times.

Tellis argues in the report that India is happy with the status quo and “sees Pakistan’s antagonism and its support for terrorism as distractions that consume resources otherwise better spent on fuelling its ascent on the world stage” and describes it as an “intensifying international embrace”.

Pakistan, on the other hand, wants to change the status quo, consumed by a combination of a cynical desire for revenge—for the 1971 war that led to the creation of Bangladesh—claims of being a peer, without merit, and seeks to use jihadis as an instrument to weaken India and seek political concessions.

And its military is able to perpetuate its political and economic dominance by flogging a long-drawn out, ideologically justifiable Muslim resistance against a Hindu India.

And because the Pakistani military will not let Pakistan — its civilian leadership — change these positions, Tellis argues, “a shift in Pakistan’s orientation and behaviour will depend fundamentally on the military itself”.

That’s where the United States and the rest of the international community can hope to carve out a role for themselves, if they want to, but it must involve “pressing the Pakistan Army to cease supporting jihadi terrorism in India,” he says.

“Washington must resist, for both political and moral reasons, any complicity with the Pakistan Army’s quest for dividends through blackmail,” says Tellis, who was a senior adviser in the state department in the George W Bush administration.

This is now essential because of the risks posed to regional stability, the US and allied homelands, and ultimately, the viability of Pakistan itself. “Absent such concerted action by the United States, no India-Pakistan peace talks will be worth a damn.”

The title of the report comes from that last sentence, aptly: “Are India-Pakistan peace talks worth a damn?”

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