Representational image of an Indian Air Force Mi-17 helicopter in Kargil in 1999 | IndianAirForce| Facebook

Just what will be the extent of popular and official outrage if Bill Clinton were to dare to mention the K-word in the course of his visit to the subcontinent?

We will cry interference, intervention, mediation, return of the pro-Pakistan tilt and so on. The Pakistanis, already so pitiably claiming that the diplomatic equivalent of a presidential pit stop amounts to being a great vindication of the army rule, will inevitably call it a great victory.

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Both could be totally wrong, because the overall power equation, the rules of the game and competing future interests have all changed. But that is only if we learn to move beyond the old-time scriptural diplomacy and begin to understand the international aspect of the Kashmir issue today differently. Or as a victorious, strong nation should, following a watershed event like the Kargil conflict.

After having pragmatically, and successfully, sought and won the world’s attention — even intervention — during the Kargil crisis, we now have to coolly assess the changed nuances of the recent US policy utterances on the region, particularly on Kashmir, and thereby understand the opportunity that now lies ahead. Clinton himself may have made some pro forma noises on the larger proliferation issue but if he calls the LoC in Kashmir the most dangerous place on the earth, and his straight-talking secretary of state follows up by more or less asking the Pakistanis to respect its sanctity in her speech to the Asia Society at Washington this week, should we really complain if the US talks about Kashmir?

In fact, if this tone continues, it is the Pakistanis who should begin to worry. Just as, over the decades, we have developed an immunological rejection of any idea of foreign mediation in Kashmir, the Pakistanis have made it the very bedrock of their foreign policy. Smart moves will now be made by the side that figures out how dramatically the tables have turned here. How international, particularly American, interest in Kashmir is most likely to work to India’s advantage and, if the Pakistanis still nursed any ambitions of grabbing the Valley, to their detriment.


Also read: Nawaz Sharif’s pleas and Bill Clinton’s intervention in the Kargil War


Over the past five years or so a consensus has been growing in India that a future, permanent solution to the Kashmir problem has to be constructed around the idea of converting the LoC into a permanent border. Whether India will be willing to lace that kind of a settlement with the offer of greater autonomy for the state or other concessions to its separated people on the two sides of the LoC are ideas that have been debated often. We have always been shy of saying so in public — the one time Jaswant Singh supposedly said something of the sort to Karan Thapar in a television interview he was quick to deny the statement. But, barring the odd statement from the Prime Minister in the very irritable days following the Kandahar hijack, Indian leaders have not been talking too much about recovering the Pakistani Occupied Kashmir.

Kargil, in a way, broke this shyness. For the first time since the Simla Accord, the LoC was talked of as a de facto border in international discourse as the world got involved in defusing the conflict. The July 4 agreement between Clinton and Nawaz Sharif also spoke of respecting the sanctity of the LoC. We haven’t complained too much about all that. In fact our Kargil diplomacy is supposed to be a historic success.

If that means that our ultimate objective is a settlement along the LoC and if the world, America in particular, by and large endorses that idea, the issue of third-party intervention would have acquired a completely different meaning. Compare this with the situation five years ago, when third party intervention was a real threat for India. What was the language of the international discourse on Kashmir, led by the then Assistant Secretary of State Robin Raphel? That Kashmir is a disputed state where Indian forces are committing terrible human rights violations, that the instrument of accession signed between its Maharaja and India was not final, and so on. Fighting over the past 18 months has only intensified in Kashmir. And while our armed forces have cleaned up their act, if no US official has meanwhile talked of any human rights violations, something has obviously changed in the larger equation. No one, no one at all, has also made any mention of the UN resolutions of 1948 and the plebiscite.

Even the greatest pessimist won’t see it as a change that is detrimental to Indian interests, particularly if our final objective is the recognition of the LoC as the border and credible Pakistani commitments that it will be so respected by them. We cannot wait for Pakistan to have a regime or political system of our preference or choice before reaching any agreement with them. And even if somehow a friendly, elected leader comes to power there, there will never be a guarantee that a future dictator won’t go back on the agreement. The fatal flaw with the Simla Agreement, probably, was that the late Mrs Gandhi placed too much faith in Bhutto’s longevity and the stability of the democratic system in Pakistan.

If she had assessed the Pakistani situation less idealistically, she would have worried about future regimes not respecting international accords signed in the past. Then, hard-headed pragmatist that she was, she would possibly have asked for international guarantees of some sort before releasing the Pakistani PoWs. It isn’t all history yet, since Pakistan still has a very unstable political system. So what is the harm if a future accord were to be sanctified by either the world powers, or some sort of significant international groupings, if not the UN?

Clinton would certainly not offer to mediate on Kashmir. Nor does he have the leverage today to force either side to enter into negotiations with any particular objective in mind. What he can do, though, is nudge Pakistan into making a more realistic appreciation of its prospects if it persists with its current Kashmir policy. More than India, it is Pakistan that needs to be convinced that after Kargil, and in the light of the current excitement over the growing Indian economy, it has no international support left for any other adventures in Kashmir. Given Musharraf’s current insecurities and his desperation for some sort of legitimacy from the US, Clinton will have a great deal of leverage with him. That is why, if he does mention the K-word during his visit, and if he does stick to the policy script we have seen unfold over the past two weeks, it is not us but the Pakistanis who should begin to worry about the prospects of third party intervention.


Also read: Kebabs and Kargil


 

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