In a report titled “President Obama’s Policy Options in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA)”, Hassan Aabbas, Fellow at the Michigan-based Institute for Policy and Understanding (ISPM), argues that the US “should help India, Pakistan and Afghanistan reconcile their differences in lieu of the tensions in the region. A good beginning could be to help Pakistan and Afghanistan settle the Durand Line issue… (and) In the second stage, the United States could convince Pakistan to do all in its power to dismantle the militant groups operating in the country under various names and convince India to soften its traditional stand and enter into meaningful dialogue process with Pakistan about resolving the Kashmir conflict – the “grand bargain” idea.” (Emphasis added).1
The attempt of Pakistani scholars like Hassan Aabbas seems to be to link the India, Pakistan and Afghanistan problems together. The “grand bargain” idea seems to be to signal to India that Pakistan will dismantle the infrastructure of terrorism only if it gets consolation from India on Kashmir.
This is an insidious idea. The US should not fall for it. Firstly, it is the duty of Pakistan under international law not to permit the use of its soil by terrorist groups whether they are fighting the US (Taliban, Al Qaeda) or India (Let, JeM, etc.). Why should there be a grand bargain between terrorism and the resolution of the Kashmir problem? Will this not imply concession to the terrorists? The idea of “grand bargain” is totally unacceptable as it justifies terror acts like the carnage in Mumbai.
Secondly, linking the Afghan-Pakistan problem with that in Kashmir appears to be a tactic to lessen the pressure on Pakistan. India-Pakistan problems are not connected with the Pakistan-Afghanistan problem. The Durand Line problem involves Pakistan, Afghanistan and the Pushtuns. India does not come in the picture at all.
So far as Kashmir is concerned, it has a long history at the root of which lies Pakistani aggression against India in 1947. Pakistan aided and abetted the tribal invasion of J&K in October 1947. The state of J&K became a legal part of India when the Maharaja of the state signed an instrument of accession merging the princely state with India, as had been done by 560 other such princely states. Pakistan has refused to accept the accession and has instead chosen to go to war with India on four occasions and has also used terrorists to further its cause by fomenting and supporting militancy in Kashmir. In any event, the two countries are discussing Kashmir under the composite dialogue process and that is how it should be. Kashmir cannot be linked with Afghanistan.
The Pakistanis have made serious efforts to exert pressure on the Obama administration to appoint a special envoy on Kashmir. So far the Obama administration has not done so. The Pakistanis are now trying to get Richard Holbrook, the special Envoy on Afghanistan-Pakistan to take up Kashmir also. This explains the effort to link the Afghan problem with the Kashmir issue.
The US administration should be mindful of the dangers ahead. External meddling in Kashmir could worsen the situation. Instead its effort should be to force Pakistan to dismantle the infrastructure of terrorism.
India’s role in Afghanistan has been entirely positive. It has provided substantial amount of technical, economic and humanitarian assistance to the Afghan government to help reconstruction and rehabilitation of Afghanistan. Indian assistance is acknowledged by the Afghan people and the Afghan government. Its commits to Afghanistan is to the tune of $1.2 billion, much larger than that of Pakistan. Pakistan has raised the totally unnecessary bogey of Indian presence in Afghanistan. The ISI went to the extent of aiding the Taliban groups in attacking the Indian embassy in Kabul in August 2008 in which four Indian officials including two senior diplomats lost their lives. The US knows well the contribution made by India in stabilising Afghanistan. This is in stark contrast to the role played by Pakistan in destabilising Afghanistan.
India has maintained for a very long time that it will not tolerate any mediation in Kashmir which it regards as a bilateral problem to be resolved by India and Pakistan. This position will not change as public opinion in India solidly opposes external interference in Kashmir. India has also urged Pakistan not to support terrorism in Kashmir and to stop referring to militant groups like the LeT, which perpetrated the Mumbai terror attack, as “freedom fighters”.
The way forward lies in Pakistan coming clean on its role in fomenting terrorism. The task before Holbrook will be to receive unequivocal commitment from the Pakistan government and the army to root out the terror infrastructure in Pakistan. Differentiated approach to terrorist groups cannot be acceptable. There are no good terrorists or freedom fighters. The international community should be convinced of Pakistani intentions.