On India-Pakistan thaw and the changing Afghan dynamics

February 7, 2010

siachensaluteThere is a time and a place for everything and back in the days of the Obama election campaign the idea that progress on the Kashmir dispute between India and Pakistan could help turn around the flagging military campaign in Afghanistan looked plausible. The argument, much touted by Washington think-tankers, was that Pakistan would not turn against Afghan Taliban militants on its western border as long as it believed it might need to use them to counter India’s growing influence in Afghanistan, and as long as it felt the need to keep the bulk of its army on its eastern border with India.

Even in the middle of last year, when Pakistan and India made an ultimately unsuccessful attempt to revive peace talks which had been frozen since the attack on Mumbai at the end of 2008, the possibility of a “grand bargain” from Kashmir to Kabul still carried some resonance.

But time has moved on, so it is a little bit strange to see these arguments resurfacing now after India proposed to resume talks with Pakistan.  (See Newsweek’s “Kashmir is the key to peace in Afghanistan” or the op-ed by David Ignatius in the Washington Post)

As I wrote in this analysis, a thaw in relations between India and Pakistan would be too little, too late to achieve results in time for Washington’s 2011 deadline for drawing down troops in Afghanistan. Real progress on Kashmir would require them to get back to a roadmap for peace sketched out between India and Pakistan in 2007 under former president Pervez Musharraf. But Pakistan, whose vulnerability to attacks by Islamist militants has been demonstrated in a spate of gun and bomb attacks over the past year, probably no longer has the political space to offer the kind of concessions Musharraf made to get there without risking a backlash at home. And while the roadmap provided a framework for further negotiations on Kashmir, a lot of ground had yet to be covered to translate that into a real agreement; even if indeed it would ever have worked.

So public opinion in the West, already weary of the long Afghan war, is unlikely to have the patience to support ongoing military operations in Afghanistan for the kind of time it would take to achieve a breakthrough on Kashmir.  That is not to suggest the India-Pakistan thaw is not important for Afghanistan – by talking both countries may be able to reduce their suspicions about each other’s involvement there so that they don’t end up backing opposite sides in any renewed civil war which might erupt as U.S.-led forces begin to leave.  But the road to Kabul no longer runs through Kashmir, if indeed it ever did (as regular readers of this blog know, it is a hotly contested subject.)

Perhaps of more significance even than the long timeline for progress in relations between India and Pakistan  is the way in which Western governments are looking at the war in Afghanistan.  In a sea-change to their approach to Afghanistan which surfaced in the days before last month’s London conference, the United States and its allies acknowledged that lasting peace there would need to involve the Taliban. As a result, the talk in the corridors at the London conference was about the possibility of an eventual political settlement with Taliban leaders – right up to and including Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar, condemned in the West for his refusal to hand over al Qaeda leaders after the Sept. 11 attacks.

From what I am being told,  Taliban leaders would be willing to negotiate if they believed that they could secure a better settlement through talks than by waiting it out for U.S.-led troops to start to leave and then trying to fight their way to power in a renewed civil war.  Talks would also get them the international recognition denied them when they were in power from 1996 to 2001. To get one perspective on this, do read the statement posted on the Taliban website in which they say they ”want to have good and positive relations with the neighbouring countries in an atmosphere of mutual respect and take far-reaching steps for bilateral cooperation, economic development and prosperous future”.  On the other side, Washington and its allies are insisting that the Taliban sever ties with al Qaeda and renounce violence.

So far the Americans are saying they are not ready to negotiate, hoping to turn the tide with a big new offensive into Helmand province that might secure them better terms in any peace deal.  U.S. special envoy Richard Holbrooke also dismissed speculation that the United States was already holding direct secret talks with the Taliban.

According to the Islamabad correspondent of the Hindu, as discussed in this article, Pakistan is beginning to sense a resolution of the Afghan conflict which for perhaps the first time since 2001 is turning in its favour. For 30 years – ever since the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan – it has pushed for a government in Kabul that would be friendly to Pakistan, fearing encirclement by India were the influence of its bigger neighbour to become too great in Kabul. Recently it has shifted to talking about wanting a neutral, rather than a Talibanised Afghanistan. But it looks unlikely that it would be willing to take military action against the Afghan Taliban in the so-called “Quetta shura” at a time when it thinks its own interests in Afghanistan could be met through a negotiated political settlement.

In that sense. the dispute over Kashmir has become a lot less relevant than it was in 2009 and before.

(Photo: Indian soldier salutes while sliding down a rope in Siachen/Pawel Kopczynski)

 

 

20 comments

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No one knows who really represents Pakistan. The military does have a strong influence on all decisions made on behalf of Pakistan. However, the Jihadi machinery seems to have started going on its own agenda. The recent conference of all Juhadist elements in Azad Kashmir did not care much about Afghanistan. JuD has even pledged Jihad against India in Kashmir. This means any talks between the governments of India and Pakistan will mean nothing. The Jihadist groups, with the help of their supporters in the Pak military will launch their own campaign in Kashmir while the US and its allies launch another offensive against the Taliban. The Pak military seems to have lesser and lesser influence on these run away groups. National pride prevents the militaries of the two countries to work together and hunt these radical groups down. I agree with your analysis that India-Pak thaw in diplomacy is a little too late. One thing is for sure. India is going to see a lot more suicide bombings across the nation as the JuD and LeT launch their own offensive. I don’t think the Pak government or the military will have any say or link to it. Pak government should explain to India of their own inability to help snuff out these elements, but offering to share intelligence and work with the Indian counterparts to thwart militant attacks inside India. But there is no one Pakistan who is in a position to do that. Obama should never have made the withdrawal date public. He did that to pander to the American public. But it has sent a wrong message to the militant outfits that the Americans are leaving and they can warm up their activities. There is no use complaining about Pak government’s non-cooperation. I think they have become as helpless as anyone else in the region. The two foreign ministers should sit along with the military chiefs and chalk out a plan to work together to wipe out militant outfits inside Pakistan and India once in for all. They have become a menace to all people in the region. That should be the first step the two nations should take – destroy the enemy that has become common to both nations and their survival.

Posted by KPSingh01 | Report as abusive

Kashmir has not become now lot less relevant than it was in the last year. If past bilateral talks between India and Pakistan are any indication, the two countries are always suspicious of each other even when they are on the talking table. After all, what will be the magic bullet in talks between India and Pakistan that would make US task easy in Afghanistan. If there is nothing substantial on Kashmir in talks between the two countries, there won’t be any magic bullet that will restore trust between India and Pakistan within six months to make US exit from Afghanistan an easy task. I am sure Pakistan and India won’t talk about how to make US succeed in Afghanistan unless their own interests are met.

Again, it is Kashmir dispute that makes Pakistan to strive to have a friendly government in Afghanistan, and the Taliban is the best bet for Pakistan. By helping the two countries to make some headway on the Kashmir dispute , US will not only make the Taliban irrelevant for Pakistan, but will substantially reduce Islamic fundamentalist influence on the Pakistan society. By helping solve Kashmir dispute, US will have an ever lasting positive influence on South Asia, and perhaps on the whole Islamic world. A momentary displeasure from India will too fade away with time, and perhaps India will be better off without Kashmir than with Kashmir.

Posted by Tony89 | Report as abusive

Seem a good article to me.

Posted by Tony89 | Report as abusive

I completely disagree with the opinion of the author that Kashmir has become now lot less relevant than it was in the last year. If past bilateral talks between India and Pakistan are any indication, the two countries are always suspicious of each other even when they are on the talking table. After all, what will be the magic bullet in talks between India and Pakistan that would make US task easy in Afghanistan. If there is nothing substantial on Kashmir in talks between the two countries, there won’t be any magic bullet that will restore trust between India and Pakistan within six months to make US exit from Afghanistan an easy task. I am sure Pakistan and India won’t talk about how to make US succeed in Afghanistan unless their own interests are met. Again, it is Kashmir dispute that makes Pakistan to strive to have a friendly government in Afghanistan, and the Taliban is the best bet for Pakistan. By helping the two countries to make some headway on the Kashmir dispute , US will not only make the Taliban irrelevant for Pakistan, but will substantially reduce Islamic fundamentalist influence on the Pakistan society. By helping solve Kashmir dispute, US will have an ever lasting positive influence on South Asia, and perhaps on the whole Islamic world. A momentary displeasure from India will too fade away with time, and perhaps India will be better off without Kashmir than with Kashmir.

Posted by Tony89 | Report as abusive

I completely disagree with the opinion of the author that Kashmir has become now lot less relevant than it was in the last year. If past bilateral talks between India and Pakistan are any indication, the two countries are always suspicious of each other even when they are on the talking table. After all, what will be the magic bullet in talks between India and Pakistan that would make US task easy in Afghanistan. If there is nothing substantial on Kashmir in talks between the two countries, there won’t be any magic bullet that will restore trust between India and Pakistan within six months to make US exit from Afghanistan an easy task. I am sure Pakistan and India won’t talk about how to make US succeed in Afghanistan unless their own interests are met.

Posted by Tony89 | Report as abusive

Again, it is Kashmir dispute that makes Pakistan to strive to have a friendly government in Afghanistan, and the Taliban is the best bet for Pakistan. By helping the two countries to make some headway on the Kashmir dispute , US will not only make the Taliban irrelevant for Pakistan, but will substantially reduce Islamic fundamentalist influence on the Pakistan society. By helping solve Kashmir dispute, US will have an ever lasting positive influence on South Asia, and perhaps on the whole Islamic world. A momentary displeasure from India will too fade away with time, and perhaps India will be better off without Kashmir than with Kashmir.

Posted by Tony89 | Report as abusive

If past bilateral talks between India and Pakistan are any indication, the two countries are always suspicious of each other even when they are on the talking table. After all, what will be the magic bullet in talks between India and Pakistan that would make US task easy in Afghanistan. If there is nothing substantial on Kashmir in talks between the two countries, there won’t be any magic bullet that will restore trust between India and Pakistan within six months to make US exit from Afghanistan an easy task. I am sure Pakistan and India won’t talk about how to make US succeed in Afghanistan unless their own interests are met. Again, it is Kashmir dispute that makes Pakistan to strive to have a friendly government in Afghanistan, and the Taliban is the best bet for Pakistan. By helping the two countries to make some headway on the Kashmir dispute , US will not only make the Taliban irrelevant for Pakistan, but will substantially reduce Islamic fundamentalist influence on the Pakistan society. By helping solve Kashmir dispute, US will have an ever lasting positive influence on South Asia, and perhaps on the whole Islamic world. A momentary displeasure from India will too fade away with time, and perhaps India will be better off without Kashmir than with Kashmir.

Posted by Tony89 | Report as abusive

If past bilateral talks between India and Pakistan are any indication, the two countries are always suspicious of each other even when they are on the talking table. After all, what will be the magic bullet in talks between India and Pakistan that would make US task easy in Afghanistan. If there is nothing substantial on Kashmir in talks between the two countries, there won’t be any magic bullet that will restore trust between India and Pakistan within six months to make US exit from Afghanistan an easy task. I am sure Pakistan and India won’t talk about how to make US succeed in Afghanistan unless their own interests are met.

Posted by Tony89 | Report as abusive

If past bilateral talks between India and Pakistan are any indication, the two countries are always suspicious of each other even when they are on the talking table. After all, what will be the magic bullet in talks between India and Pakistan that would make US task easy in Afghanistan. If there is nothing substantial on Kashmir in talks between the two countries, there won’t be any magic bullet that will restore trust between India and Pakistan within six months to make US exit from Afghanistan an easy task. I am sure Pakistan and India won’t talk about how to make US succeed in Afghanistan unless their own interests are met.

Posted by MIke09 | Report as abusive

Its as if the whole onus of the Afghanistan and the peace of the world now depends on India. Did the Kashmir issue not exist when Bush decided to invade Afghanistan. Did the Super intelligent US/Uk security advisers didnt calculate that Pakistan would play this game before attacking the Taliban. Now the NATO troops are in trouble and the politcians are finding scapegoats to save themselves. It feels like the west knows that it cannot win the war in Afghanistan and is now desterately looking for other people to blame for its failure.

The prespostrous connection between Afghanistan and India/Pak talks is totally illogical and unintelligent. Repeatedly US officials have harped on to Pakistan that India is not your enemy and there no immediate danger from India to Paksitan but like a fool and a child Paksitan has adamantly refused to draw its troops from its eastern border to its western border. THEY DONT WANT TO FIGHT THE TALIBAN. Kashmir and India is just an excuse.

Posted by SunilKumar | Report as abusive

sorry for the spellings

Posted by SunilKumar | Report as abusive

Myra,

You have spent considerable analysis on the Pakistani angle and perspective. Perhaps, you could also take this further and give us your analysis on the Indian angle.

Most of us who comment here have given our opinion many times over. Personally I have nothing new to offer. Your assessment of the Indian angle would help in taking this discussion further on different lines than what has been happening till now.

As for the Indian offer and my expectations of the talks; though a supporter of dialogue, I feel the timing is wrong. Obviously there is going to be no quick fire solution (I also don’t really see why a solution to Kashmir should come about to facilitate American expectations either). The main reason for pessimism at this point is because I see nothing positive in attitudes except for maybe Manmohan Singh’s ambition to be seen as a harbinger of great positive change in Indo Pak relations. I think he is going to be disappointed, the rest of India will follow the talks, hope for the best but not with any great degree of optimism.

Pakistan is even now not showing any sign of being sensitive to Indian concerns. In fact some of their officials seem to be simply going out of their way to rub India the wrong way. Public mood in India is such that there is very little patience with bombast from across the border.

Posted by DaraIndia | Report as abusive

****************************
Verdict: The Indo-Pak peace talks will FAIL eventually. Why waste time?
****************************

Why Pakistan must reject India’s peace offer?.:

Please don’t get emotional. Just think with a cool mind. Pakistan has gained a lot because of enmity with India. Let’s count the benefits gained by Pakistan due to Indo-Pak enmity.

*****************************
1. Pakistan was born out of Hindu-Muslim hatred.

2. Pakistan became the sole nuclear power in the entire Muslim world because of Indo-Pak enmity.

3. In the abscence of nuclear power, Pakistan would have been easily takenover by the mighty Indo-US-Israeli coalition and would have become another Palestine. Again credit goes to Indo-Pak enmity.

4. Today, the anti-Muslim attitude and the wrong foreign policy adopted by the Brahmins has isolated India in the SAARC region. Advantage Pak.

5. US/Israel terror enterprise has abandoned Afghanistan. Again advantage Pak.

6. In the past, several times India has rejected all the peace offers by Pakistan. Why can’t Pakistan reject this time and regain it’s lost pride?.
*****************************

Pakistan is a frontline state of China and even may allow China to setup a base in Pakistan.

Rejection of peace offer will make China very happy and China is a superpower. Good for Pakistan. Get smart, Pak.

Either way the peace talks will fail and we will be back to square one, eventually.

True Indo-Pak peace is possible only when RSS-BJP-BD-Deoband-JUD-LeT-Kashmiri seperatists hold a peace meeting.

Why can’t Pakistan gain some geo-political advantage by rejecting the peace which is bound to fail anyway?.

Posted by Alamsha_Karnan | Report as abusive

@As I wrote in this analysis, a thaw in relations between India and Pakistan would be too little, too late to achieve results in time for Washington’s 2011 deadline for drawing down troops in Afghanistan.”
-Myra

Myra: Af-Pak link to thaw between India and Pakistan was always an impractical idea—NOW and IN THE PAST. Afghanistan needed quick solution as far as Pakistan’s help is needed in WOT, but thaw of relations between countries is a slow process. All this is such a bunch of crap and spin of such a massive degree that India=Pak issue is becoming handy to explain why Pakistan has been duplicitous and that why US/NATO could not win the fight against guerrillas.

@ Real progress on Kashmir would require them to get back to a roadmap for peace sketched out between India and Pakistan in 2007 under former president Pervez Musharraf.”
–Myra

Myra: Kayani was part of the back channel talks as an ISI chief and if he wants talks can be picked from there. Recently Kayani’s statement that ““We plan on adversaries’ capabilities, not intentions.” just tells that Pakistan has pushed itself into a permanent zone of not being receptive to improvement of relationship since India’s capabilities are always going to be stronger than Pakistan’s.

Posted by RajeevK | Report as abusive

@4. Today, the anti-Muslim attitude and the wrong foreign policy adopted by the Brahmins has isolated India in the SAARC region. Advantage Pak.”
Posted by Alamsha_Karnan

–Could you name the “Brahmins” here?

@True Indo-Pak peace is possible only when RSS-BJP-BD-Deoband-JUD-LeT-Kashmiri seperatists hold a peace meeting.
–What a bunch of crap! Do you even know what BJP is? BJP when in power was the one which kick started the peace process. RSS-BJP-BD has nothing to do with anyone across the Indian border–be that Pakistan.

Perhaps you think that making LeT types happy is part of the solution. Then LeT wants its flag on redfort! Perhaps you’ll say India talk to them over this. BS. Who are these terrorists and why do they think they represent a struggle that is foreign to them. May be they can get authorization from Kashmiris first. LeT et al deserves no less than what PA is giving to Mehsud clan and other TTP in Pakistan. Trouble amplifies when people like you reason with terrorists.

It is the state institutions in Pakistan that control the valve of the terrorists and those are the ones need to be talked to.

@ In the abscence of nuclear power, Pakistan would have been easily takenover by the mighty Indo-US-Israeli coalition and would have become another Palestine.”
–Did you ask yourself what were so-called “Indo-US-Israeli coalition” doing before Islamic bomb? Why they did not take over? US was friend, Israel did not care or was part of anti-USSR mission of US/Pakistan and India had no intentions as evident from a liberated Bangladesh.

Posted by RajeevK | Report as abusive

Alamsha_Karnan writes: Rejection of peace offer will make China very happy and China is a superpower. Good for Pakistan. Get smart, Pak.

Wow, it must really be a tough decision. Who to let be your masters. Americans or chinese.

Well Done Pakistan

Posted by SunilKumar | Report as abusive

“It is within us” By Kamran Shafi

http://www.dawn.com/wps/wcm/connect/dawn -content-library/dawn/the-newspaper/colu mnists/13+kamran-shafi-it-is-within-us-9 20-za-01

“How can Afghanistan become friendly towards Pakistan when there is continuing ambivalence in wholeheartedly targeting the Taliban leadership, both Afghan and Pakistani, which as we well know are closely allied? How possibly can Afghanistan call Pakistan a friend when senior Pakistani army officers refer to these people, its enemies, as ‘assets’?

“On another tack, how can the ultimate leaders of groups that also attack innocent Pakistanis in Peshawar and Rawalpindi, Lahore and Karachi be the strategic assets of our brass hats?

“How can Afghanistan consider Pakistan a friend when the Quetta shura of the Afghan Taliban which has now been outed by no less a personage than the minister of defence, is not even touched let alone degraded to an extent that it will cease being a threat to Afghanistan? When its leaders openly defy government authority and do as they will in Balochistan, extending their murderous tentacles into Iran too?

“Unless, of course, it is still the case that our great strategists feel that the Taliban, both the Pakistan and Afghan variety, are the only ones who can ensure a peaceful, stable and friendly Afghanistan. If so, they have very bad memories, for they do not have to look very far back into Afghanistan’s sorry history to see how badly this, for want of a better word, scheme, failed so very miserably the last time around, with the Afghan people facing untold tribulations at the hands of a backward and medieval regime.

“How possibly can the Afghans see Pakistan as a friend when they see that their tormentors and the Pakistani security establishment are still friends? No sirs, no, Afghanistan will never consider Pakistan a friend unless those who have made mindless statements about the Taliban being assets retract those statements in totality and without reservation. And far more than that take stringent action against all of the terrorists without exception.”

Posted by RajeevK | Report as abusive

Alamsha Khan: “True Indo-Pak peace is possible only when RSS-BJP-BD-Deoband-JUD-LeT-Kashmiri seperatists hold a peace meeting.”

This is not fair. You forgot to mention the Shiv Sena. You also forgot the Indian Mujahideen, and SIMI. Please improve your general knowledge by reading reliable newspapers like Pak Tribune in order to post accurate information.

India has started a new peace process with Pakistan. As a friendly gesture, we’d like to give you Bal Thackeray, Uddhav Thakkarey and other Thakkareys as gift. You can offer them to the LeT for target practice. Please let us know when we can ship them. They’d feel at home in a country like Pakistan where people are very spirited in expressing their hatred for others. We also have some leaders like Mayawati, Advani, Narendra Modi, Mulayam Yadav, Lallu Yadav and many others that Pakistan can take and offer Nisha-e-Pakistan awards. Did I forget anyone else? Before you make your offer, thanks, but we do not want your Zardaris and Sharifs. We have plenty already at home. Since Pakistan specializes in scrap picking and recycling, it would help us if you could take our garbage. Thanks in advance.

Posted by KPSingh01 | Report as abusive

Here is B Raman giving a kind of “state of Pakistan” address.

http://www.outlookindia.com/article.aspx  ?264218

I cannot disagree with much except I disagree with Raman’s statement “They [Pakistan] have always believed that one Muslim is equal to two Hindus”.

In fact they believe that one Muslim is equal to ten Hindus.

For the sake of objectivity, here is another article on on 1965 war, written by Ahmad Faruqui, Pakistani author.

http://pakistanlink.org/Opinion/2009/Sep 09/04/03.HTM

Posted by RajeevK | Report as abusive

Myra:

You said:
“There is a time and a place for everything and back in the days of the Obama election campaign the idea that progress on the Kashmir dispute between India and Pakistan could help turn around the flagging military campaign in Afghanistan looked plausible.”
—I think you are still in denial that waiting for India-Pak for solving Afghanistan is the worst mistake. That is buying the argument that “progress on the Kashmir dispute” (hope you includes shameless terrorism by Pakistan against India here) is fast enough and good enough to achieve US’s goal in Afghanistan.

If you want to fall for Pakistan’s excuses it is up to you. Why you do that is beyond me because rationale is missing. Your assumption is thaw is enough for turning PA towards Afghanistan. So how do you explain Kayani who says “We plan on adversaries’ capabilities, not intentions”. He means his guns will always be at India no matter what.

What happened to your promise of your photograph in Siachin in Indian jacket with Indian rifle? I am still waiting.

More here:

http://www.outlookindia.com/article.aspx  ?264218

http://pakistanlink.org/Opinion/2009/Sep 09/04/03.HTM

Posted by RajeevK | Report as abusive

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