Sunday, 4 December, 2022
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Trump is perfect to mediate on Kashmir. But India doesn’t have chutzpah to pull it off

Look at Trump’s new plan for Israel and Palestine. Here we have a favourable US President, but India doesn’t have diplomatic skill to accommodate his ego.

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Donald Trump should be allowed to mediate between India and Pakistan on Kashmir. Sounds weird, doesn’t it? But it’s actually genius if you think about it. The question is, do we have the chutzpah and the political adroitness to pull it off?

The US President is no shying violet. Trump is happy to break from bipartisan policy consensus. For example, on the Israel-Palestine peace process, he has publicly discarded any semblance of neutrality – first moving the US embassy to Jerusalem and then blessing a partition plan that leaves the Palestinians with less than they have ever been offered. The difference was that previously, the US never signed plans that Palestinians didn’t agree to, even though the Israelis offered them progressively less in each iteration. This time, however, the US unveiled the plan and got it pre-approved by some of the most influential Muslim states. This meant Israel didn’t need Palestinian consent to do simply what it wishes, and there’s nothing the Palestinians can do about it.

So, why shouldn’t we do the same with Trump? Let him mediate the Kashmir issue and get him to handle the Pakistanis for us. It’s not so crazy as it sounds. Right now, Trump has made clear it that while he much prefers India, he is tied down to Pakistan due to the US’ engagement in Afghanistan’s peace deal. He’s happy to pinpoint the joint threat of Islamic terror and identify Pakistan as the hive of said terror when in Ahmedabad. But that’s about it. Unlike previous US presidents who weren’t transactional, and stated positions as red lines, everything is negotiable with Trump. That’s what his Pakistan statements were – the opening stance in a negotiation. From the war on terror to mediation on Kashmir, these are all positions to be bargained over and bought.

Also read: Modi and Trump bromance won’t do much for democracy or the global liberal order

Exchanging love and diplomacy

What exactly is the price India will have to pay for this devoted, monogamous love from Trump’s US?

As things stand, India has the upper hand in terms of outright purchases of US equipment and a US voter base that is increasingly willing to vote for Trump, unlike Pakistan, which neither has money nor are its expats willing to touch Trump with a barge pole. To be clear, the Indian population in the US is concentrated in coastal urban areas, which see Democrats win by margins that the Indian community simply can’t reverse. However, it’s the campaign funding where Indians make the real difference, being one of the highest disposable income communities in the US. In many ways, this is similar to Jews in the US (though not a perfect analogy).

The main problem, however, lies on the military side of things. While Israel is happy to act as US’ deputy sheriff and make its forces perfectly interoperable with the US, India is unwilling to do either. The former stems from a reluctance to use force as a tool of foreign policy and the latter, from a lingering mistrust of the US and a wildly misguided policy of purchasing equipment from different countries that don’t talk to each other.

The third chip is Afghanistan, the one anchor that makes it impossible for the US to sever its support for Pakistan. But given the imminent US drawdown, that dependency will reduce too. This means this third chip is just maximalist and the initial negotiating position for Trump. He is basically willing to offer us the US’ love in return for trade and loyal voter base. This makes the proposition both realistic for India and extremely well-aligned to our foreign policy.

Also read: China to Islamic terror, Modi got Trump to say things never spoken by US presidents before

India’s hesitation

So, what’s the hang up? In addition to a sagging economy and dysfunctional military, it’s India’s complete lack of political fleet footedness in Washington DC. While Jewish PACs and interest groups are able to divide their support and resources between Republicans and Democrats, to keep both incentivised in Israel, India has neither the sophisticated means or strategisation required. This means what Trump agrees to in 2020 may not be acceptable to a Democrat successor in 2024 and if Pakistan manages to sit out Trump, it may actually gain the upper hand in 2024. Moreover, unlike the Saudis who were able to steamroller him with contracts, we neither have the reserves nor the willpower to do something similar to insulate us from a Democrat backlash.

In short, Donald Trump may be great Kashmir mediator, a blatantly partial one, who’ll be willing to unfairly skew the balance in India’s favour. The problem is, India may not have the diplomatic skill to accommodate his ego while insulating ourselves from a change of government in Washington DC.

The author is a senior fellow at the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies. He tweets @iyervval. Views are personal.

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  1. Kashmir is an integral part of India and we do not need anyone to tell us how we should govern our states.

  2. The author is being naive and over-simplistic.
    Trump is a loose cannon. No one knows which way he will fire. He is essentially a business man and thinks like one. He will use Kashmir as a leverage with both India and Pakistan.
    The best way to solve the Kashmir issue is TO GROW STRONG ECONOMICALLY and GROW INTO A ROBUST CONSTITUTIONAL DEMOCRACY. No Trump can help if there is constant Muslim bashing happening around the country. You can annex a state by force or by subterfuge, but you can’t integrate people.
    When Kashmiris feel that they have a stake in a democratic and liberal India, they will coopt themselves, just like many Northeast states have done.
    The real dangers to India are the growing levels of bigotry and illiberalism and the systematic weakening of the institutions of democracy.

  3. What is there for Trump to mediate on Kashmir, when India tells India has told Pakistan today at UNHRC meeting that “J&K ‘was, is and shall forever’ remain its integral part”?

  4. Pakistan is not helpless, unlike Palestine, even the US needs Pakistan – such as in Afghanistan. Second, Trump’s support for Israel is simply about legitimizing the status quo, as Israel already controls the Palestinian territories in question; India does not control POK and has no credible military or diplomatic capability to coerce Pakistan into giving into up. In such a situation, departing from the principle of rejecting all third party mediation will yield no results and come to haunt us when in future there may not be a friendly US president in office. Stop looking at the US for help; have the courage to build up your military strength and rely on yourself to take back PoK one day.

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