Despite Calls for Greater Involvement, U.S. Played Small Role in Recent South Asian Peace Progress

WASHINGTON — Washington played only a minor role in last week’s “historic” announcement of a planned Indian-Pakistani dialogue to resolve tensions between the two nuclear-armed South Asian rivals, a senior U.S. State Department official said Friday, despite calls from former U.S. diplomats to the region that greater U.S. diplomatic engagement was needed (see GSN, Jan. 6).

Last week, Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf met in Islamabad during a summit of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation. During that meeting, according to a joint statement released afterward, the two leaders agreed to begin a joint dialogue next month to resolve outstanding issues between their two countries, including the disputed region of Kashmir, which has often threatened to become a military flashpoint between India and Pakistan.

“To carry the process of normalization forward, the president of Pakistan and the prime minister of India agreed to commence the process of the composite dialogue in February 2004. The two leaders are confident that the resumption of the composite dialogue will lead to peaceful settlement of all bilateral issues, including Jammu and Kashmir, to the satisfaction of both sides,” the joint statement said.

In interviews Friday with Indian and Pakistani media outlets, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage praised the decision by India and Pakistan to begin a dialogue, attributing the move to the “statesmanship” and “political courage” of Vajpayee and Musharraf.

“They were able to grasp each other’s hands and agree to start a dialogue on all matters in February. I think this cannot help but to be a signal to the world that there are better ways to resolve differences than through fighting. And I must say, our hats are off to all concerned,” Armitage said.

In October, a Council on Foreign Relations task force, which included among its members both a former U.S. ambassador to India and a former U.S. ambassador to Pakistan, released a report calling for Washington to initiate a long-term diplomatic effort in the region to assist India and Pakistan in resolving the Kashmir dispute (see GSN, Oct. 30, 2003). Such an effort was needed, according to the report, because neither side apparently had made the decision to launch a dialogue on their own.

“To date, nether government appears to have made the political decision that its national interest would be served by movement toward genuine detente and as Kashmir settlement — except on its own terms,” the report said.

Armitage said Friday, however, that the United States had not contributed significantly to bringing India and Pakistan together to begin a new peace dialogue.

“I think any normal diplomat would want to rush up and say that we did it, we did it. We didn’t do it.  If we were helpful, it was because at key moments we were able to talk to both sides when tensions were high. But the fact of the matter is that this was brought about because of courage of Indians and Pakistanis alike,” he said.

Experts agreed that the planned dialogue appears to have been wholly planned and initiated by India and Pakistan.

“Sure, the administration encouraged both Vajpayee and Musharraf to have a successful summit — but they made it happen, not us,” Michael Krepon, founding president of the Henry L. Stimson Center, said yesterday in a written response to Global Security Newswire.

Armitage also said that the United States would not play a role in maintaining the dialogue once it begins. “It is not the role of the United States to keep a process moving,” he said.

According to George Perkovich, vice president of studies at Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, the United States should have little direct involvement in the planned dialogue.

“The U.S. should cheerlead, should rally international applause for Indian and Pakistani leaders.  People naturally like to see that their country is being celebrated internationally — this will help their leaders, too,” he said last week in a written response to GSN.

In addition, the United States should also “suggest the benefits that would follow from peace,” such as increased international aid for the Kashmir region once peace is formalized and possible U.S. military assistance to Pakistan, Perkovich said.

Chances for SuccessDuring his interviews Friday, Armitage was optimistic that the planned dialogue would be successful in helping to resolve Indian-Pakistani tensions. He attributed the positive outlook to several factors, including recent improvements in Indian-Pakistani relations and a more “conducive” international environment.

“I think the conditions are as ripe as they’ll be, and we have two valiant leaders who seem to me intent on leading their nations on a path of peace. So that’s about the best conditions that I’ve seen in years,” Armitage said.

Armitage also expressed confidence that the planned dialogue would resolve the lingering Indian-Pakistani dispute over Kashmir, which has been a thorn in relations between the two countries since they were partitioned in 1947. He refused, however, to address what specific measures India and Pakistan might undertake to resolve the issue.

“I don’t have a roadmap to how the question of Kashmir will be resolved. I just have a great deal of more confidence now that it will be resolved peacefully and to the mutual satisfaction, both of Pakistan and India, but most importantly of all, to the people of Kashmir,” he said.

Krepon, however, expressed less confidence in the likelihood that the planned dialogue would resolve the Kashmir dispute, noting past lack of successes.

“Progress on this front is still possible if India and Pakistan can have private, substantive talks on this sensitive subject. Previous discussions have been heavily scripted and stilted,” he said.

One possible impediment to the planned dialogue could be continued cross-border terrorism in the Kashmir region by Kashmiri militant groups. According to the Indian-Pakistani joint statement released last week, Musharraf has agreed to prevent such militants from operating on Pakistani territory. Armitage said Friday that the United States places “a great deal of faith” in such pledges by the Pakistani leader.

“We have had very good discussions with President Musharraf and his colleagues about these matters. We believe President Musharraf when he says he does not want these type activities on Pakistan soil. Obviously, time will tell,” Armitage said.

Soon after India and Pakistan announced their dialogue plans, however, Kashmiri militant groups began expressing their opposition, according to reports.

“He [Musharraf] must remember Kashmiris can turn their back on Pakistan and launch a struggle for a separate homeland,” the Los Angeles Times last week quoted a spokesman for the banned group Jaish-e-Mohammed as saying.

Another factor is a possible change in leadership in either India or Pakistan, including by possible violence. Last month, Musharraf survived two assassination attempts, including one suspected of having been conducted by Jaish-e-Mohammed. 

Armitage said Friday that the repeated attempts against Musharraf’s life demonstrate the Pakistani leader’s “courage” in seeking peace with India. 

“He will not be swayed, he will not be terrorized into going along another path other than the search for peace which he is engaged with Prime Minister Vajpayee. And our think our Indian friends should take some sense of confidence from that,” Armitage said.

If Musharraf were to be assassinated or overthrown, according to Perkovich, it would not automatically mean the end of the planned dialogue. He said that the  “awkward constitutional-political crisis” that would result would likely lead to a suspension of any talks while the government and the military, which has played a major role in Pakistani politics, resolved the line of succession.

“In such a period it would be too much to expect Pakistan to apply high-level attention to diplomacy with India.  There would be an understandable pause, I would expect,” he said.

The advancing age of Vajpayee, who is 79 years old, may also result in a change of leadership on the Indian side, according to Perkovich. “We all must hope he stays healthy,” Perkovich said.

January 13, 2004

WASHINGTON — Washington played only a minor role in last week’s “historic” announcement of a planned Indian-Pakistani dialogue to resolve tensions between the two nuclear-armed South Asian rivals, a senior U.S. State Department official said Friday, despite calls from former U.S. diplomats to the region that greater U.S. diplomatic engagement was needed (see GSN, Jan. 6).