Donald Trump's need to 'mediate' India-Pakistan dispute is as flawed as the approach of his predecessors

FP Editors
Idea remains the same- that the United States harbours the belief that it is a good idea to make an effort for resolving the India-Pakistan ‘dispute’. What ‘dispute’ it wants to resolve differs from administration to administration.

Editors' note: On 4 April, 2017 the then US Ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley had said that she "wouldn't be surprised" if President Donald Trump participates in a resolution of the India-Pakistan tensions. Almost two years later, the assertion has come from the POTUS himself. Trump, while meeting Pakistan prime minister Imran Khan, has claimed that Prime Minister Narendra Modi asked him to mediate in resolving the Kashmir issue €" something that India has categorically denied. This article, first published on 5 April, 2017, explores why any sort of 'intervention' by the US will not be a good idea. It is being republished in the light of Trump's latest comments.


Third party mediation. Special envoy for South Asia. Nudge both countries to resolve their dispute.

The idea comes in different words and shapes. But the idea remains the same- that the United States harbours the belief that it is a good idea to make an effort for resolving the India-Pakistan 'dispute'. What 'dispute' it wants to resolve differs from administration to administration. So, Bill Clinton wanted to focus on the nuclear aspect of India-Pakistan relationship terming South Asia as the 'nuclear flashpoint', whereas Barack Obama wanted to focus on the Kashmir issue.

The latest in this case has been the statement coming from the Donald Trump administration. The US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley at a press conference on 4 April said, "It's absolutely right that this administration is concerned about the relationship between India and Pakistan and very much wants to see how we de-escalate any sort of conflict going forward." She added that she "wouldn't be surprised if the President participates in that as well."

Pious sentiments and noble intentions, indeed.

But those need to be tempered with a dose of reality. Let's not beat around the bush and come straight to the point. This is a flawed approach adopted by every American President and his administration to India Pakistan relations in particular and South Asia in general. The flawed approach had its beginnings in the India-Pakistan hyphenated relationship that was the hallmark of the US foreign policy in South Asia during the Cold War. What dividends that approach has yielded is for everyone to see €" a blowback in the form of al-Qaeda, US-Pakistan relationship mired in deep mistrust and creating suspicion in the minds of Indian policy makers and a country ruined for decades €" Afghanistan.

Yet, this flawed approach continues to fancy American policy makers even today, presumably because it portrays America as a responsible great power. You will get your answer of how responsible America is if you ask any Iraqi, Afghan, Syrian, Vietnamese or even a Nicaraguan.

The point is this €" if you want to project yourself as a responsible great power or whatever left of it, third party mediation is the worst possible way for the United States. Pakistan may be trumpeting that third party mediation will solve its problem with India but the point is Islamabad is ready to bequeath its sovereignty to any country which is ready to do so, not just the United States €" be it China, Russia or the European Union. And it is certainly anyone's guess who wants Pakistan as a BFF.

That leaves India. Unlike Pakistan, India is a great power waiting in the wings. It will not entertain any notion of third party mediation. It has seen enough history €" colonial and post World War II €" to understand the perils of extra-regional solutions to resolve any dispute and how they pan out. And unlike Pakistan, India is very sensitive when it comes to sovereignty. So, policy makers in New Delhi will not ever accept any external pressure when it comes to Pakistan especially if that pressure is seen as perceived as against Indian interests or impinging on India's autonomy in foreign policy. And certainly not when Pakistan is seen as part of the problem especially in Kashmir.

And this stance will be maintained even as India pursues a closer relationship with the United States in every domain €" military and security included.

Before Trump, even Obama had harboured the dream of appointing a special envoy for South Asia early in his days in the White House. A clear stance articulated by India forced him to abandon that proposal. Hopefully, even if Trump disregards most of what Obama did, he pays attention to this particular aspect and mends his ways.

Also See: Donald Trump's clumsy 'mediation' claim over Kashmir gives Pakistan chance to link progress in Afghanistan and dialogue with India

US reignites warmth with Pakistan leaving India sulking; New Delhi, Washington need meeting point to keep ties on even keel

Afghanistan peace process: If India feels left out, instead of blaming Donald Trump, it must consider revamping its ineffective policy

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