India, Pakistan and US: The Delicate Dance, and Why India Must Be Aware That US Will Focus on Its Interests
India must be aware that the US will focus on its national interests, first and foremost. It may be that President Trump brings in greater personal engagement to decisions (than the American Presidents traditionally do), but ultimately the US interests will be determinative in its policy making.
With this optics, we review the UN General Assembly related meetings.
The United Nations General Assembly brought world policy makers and leaders to New York last week. Imran Khan of Pakistan and Narendra Modi of India were there. Of course, US President Donald Trump was there — he was the central cast. President Trump met with Khan and Modi bilaterally in New York.
Before the UN meetings, Trump met with Modi in Houston where 50,000 Indian Diaspora had gathered to celebrate and listen to Modi. Surprisingly, Trump too joined the gathering.
Kashmir was point of conversation and reporting. Kashmir is always a point of conversation and contention between Pakistan and India — at least for Pakistan. Kashmir is integral part of India. But Pakistan disputes that. The conversation about Kashmir has become even louder because in the last two months Indian government abolished the special status for Kashmir. This has been received well by many, and condemned by others. In any case, Kashmir is now under close observation of law enforcement.
So, where do we stand now? After all the meetings, the cheese did not move much at all. Here was the roller-coaster ride.
Modi and Trump exuberated in Houston in a huge rally of Indian diaspora. Modi even declared: “Abki baar Trump sarkar” or “This time, a Trump government.” Modi jabbed at Pakistan’s posture on terror scornfully — in presence of Trump. At that moment, it appeared that Trump had fully endorsed Modi. That was on a Sunday.
But the very next day (Monday) — when Trump met with Pakistan’s Imran Khan in New York — Trump stated that Modi’s statements were “aggressive.” Trump praised Khan’s worthy leadership. Trump expressed his willingness to mediate between India and Pakistan on the Kashmir dispute.
The ride continued.
The very next day — on Tuesday — Trump met with Narendra Modi in New York, and praised him too. Trump even called Modi the Father of India, and expressed Modi and Khan can resolve the Kashmir dispute.
By Wednesday, when Trump was ready to return to Washington he reiterated his wish and offered to mediate between India and Pakistan on Kashmir: “I offered, whether it’s arbitration or mediation, or whatever it has to be, I’ll do whatever I can. Because they’re at very serious odds right now, and hopefully that’ll get better.”
Modi addressed the UN General Assembly, so did Khan on Friday. They stuck to their positions. And returned to their homes.
Here are the takeaways.
Pakistan considers Kashmir to be a disputed territory and does not accept India’s sovereignty. With this attitude, there cannot be any progress on this issue.
Pakistan’s complaints against India on Kashmir did not find traction — for now. That’s a sign of growth in stature of India — the world powers do not want to be on the wrong side of India, if they can avoid it.
Modi was able to persuade that recent actions in Kashmir will lead to better quality of life for all its citizens, and the current tense situation there is temporary. So, India has now to bring a sense calm and trust to Kashmir. If the current tense situation in Kashmir continues for several more months, then the world will start speaking out. (Already, Labor Party in UK has criticized India.)
Why does US appear to be appeasing both Pakistan and India? US needs Pakistan’s help in Afghanistan and may be even in Iran. India cannot be of as much direct help in those areas as Pakistan can be. US needs India as a potential countervailing force to China.
Everyone needs the US. So, the dance goes on.
It is best for US to keep arm’s length on Kashmir matter — because there is no solution. While Kashmir is integral part of India, Pakistan refuses to accept this basic fact.
For India, there is only one road to global respect and fear. That is economic strength. India’s economy is now showing serious strains, Modi should invest time on that.
For Pakistan too, the best route to global respect is economic strength. Pakistan must work with the US, and buy some peace on its western border with Afghanistan. And focus on its economic potential.
The beat goes on.
India (and Pakistan) must remember this about the US. The US is a vibrant democracy with many constituents. US will act in its own national interest. For instance, India and US have not reached a trade agreement — yet. In spite of all the perceived bonhomie between Modi and Trump, the US was tightly focused on its national interests.
Footnote: I got to listen to Prime Ministers Khan and Modi, and India’s Foreign Minister Jaishankar Subrahmanyam. Here is my short interview with TIMES NOW: https://twitter.com/TimesNow/status/1177551610743943174?s=20