Sunday, March 29, 2020
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Afghanistan & not Kashmir is on Trump’s Agenda

K. B. Jandial

President Donald Trump’s stunning claim of PM Modi seeking “his mediation or arbitration” on Kashmir and a thaw in US-Pakistan relationship are enough for separatists and mainstream Kashmiri leadership to cheer up. But will it make any difference in Kashmir situation? While within an hour of Trump’s diplomatic gaffe for which he is quite known, India out rightly rejected the claim, reiterating that India is committed to Shimla Agreement and Lahore Declaration for resolving all Indo-Pak differences bilaterally.
While in fact, no responsible Indian leaders much less the Prime Minister can ever suggest third party mediation (arbitration is beyond imagination) but it is also no secret that many a times US, UK, Russia, Saudi Arabia and some other friendly nations had exercised their influence over Pakistan and prevented escalation of conflict. Twenty years ago, US intervened but rejected Pak suggestion for ceasefire in Kargil, and instead forced Pakistan to retreat from Indian hills. Immediate release of Wg Cmdr. Abhinandan captured after he parachuted in PoK in the aftermath of first ever air skirmish/dogfight since 1971 war, has been attributed to US and Saudi intervention to prevent a possible full scale Indo-Pak armed conflict. The significance of Trump can be restricted to such eventualities, that too are critical, and nothing more.
Unexpected attention Imran Khan got from Trump was ostensibly for Pakistan’s supportive role in the ongoing peace talk in Afghanistan, possibly leading to honourable exit of US forces from Afghanistan on the eve of 2020 US Presidential election in which Trump has high stakes. Critical issue for Americans, Trump found Pakistan ready to play the ball. That’s way Imran was asked to bring along his Army Chief, Gen Bajwa for ensuring Pakistan’s politically as well as Army’s full support for peace pact with Talibans on whom Pak army & ISI have influence. This becomes obvious when Trump said, “I think Pakistan is going to help us out to extricate ourselves… we’ve been there for 19 years… And I think Pakistan helps us with that we don’t want to stay there as policemen… I think we’ll have some very good answers on Afghanistan, very quickly.” As quid pro quo the desperate Trump hinted restoration of economic and military aid to Pakistan a part of which followed within days of his return home. Pentagon notified approval of $125 million technical & logistic support for Pakistan’s 75 F-16 fighter jets. Formal military annual aid has yet to be restored which probably is linked with Pakistan’s actual delivery on Afghanistan peace pact.
By an estimate, Pakistan since inception has so far got nearly $80 billion US aid which increased or decreased depending upon US interest. This aid has also hugely contributed in engineering bloodbath in J&K through cross border terrorism. In the present current ‘romance’ between Trump and Kim Jong-un, US has conveniently forgotten that Pakistan & North Korea had helped each other in building up nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles that posed a serious threat to world peace. But then, it only revolves around American interests and not global.

But the fact remains that Imran Khan’s US visit was a runaway success, both personally and politically. There have been wonderful optics and vibes that got him a hero’s welcome on his return home and he emotional responded by saying that perhaps he has returned with another World Cup. In reality, Pakistan’s future relationship depends on to what extent Imran Khan is able deliver on Afghanistan. Imran’s maiden US visit enabled him to reset Pakistan’s bitter relationship with America.

Imran Khan is the first Pakistani PM who publically accepted the charge that jihadis were trained in Pakistan who fought in Kashmir and Pakistan. In his interaction at the US Institute of Peace, a US Congress funded think tank on 24 July, 2019, Imran Khan confessed that about 40 militant groups and 30000 to 40000 armed people (terrorists) are still present in Pakistan “who have been trained to fight in some parts of Afghanistan or Kashmir”. It runs counter to Pak army’s repeated claim of breaking the back of terrorists through operation Zarb-e-Azb. Moreover, Imran was not fully truthful in telling about the entire terror infrastructure and nurseries for radicalisation that exist in his homeland. There are more than 32000 madrassas which too need to be disbanded or reformed as these are churning out radicalised youth who are the potential jihadis.

Imran’s ‘admission’ of presence of “30,000 to 40,000 armed people in Pakistan” proved what had been continuously alleged about Pakistan direct involvement in so called Kashmir’s struggle for azadi. India and Afghanistan had always accused Pakistan of providing safe haven to the Afghan Taliban, Haqqani Network, JeM, LeT and other militant groups, which carry out attacks in two countries, and with Imran’s admission, nothing more is required to be said on Pakistan’s direct involvement in cross border terrorism.

It wasn’t a state secret as this fact is already known to world community. The difference is that previous Pak leaders used to call them ‘non-state actors’ and not jihadis. The surprise, however, was the higher number of terrorists Imran revealed as compared to its Counter Terrorist Agency’s number of 8,307 individuals proscribed under Anti Terrorists Act. Pakistan has indicated this number to FATF (Financial Action Task Force) which is tightening its noose around Pakistan for money laundering, terrorist financing that pose threat to the international financial system. Pakistan is already on the grey list since June 2017 and is under threat of blacklisting in October meeting if it fails to satisfy FATF about actions taken on already indicated points. While Imran played smart displaying political will to rid Pakistan of these terrorists groups nurturing on its land, India could use Imran’s glaring admission at FATF to pin down Pakistan’s brazen duplicity.

While US needs Pakistan’s support for its exit plan in Afghanistan and spoke about mediation in Kashmir beyond agenda, it cannot ignore the importance of growing power of India with which it has strategic relationship. So, short of giving Imran Khan a political advantage within Pakistan, Trump cannot move even a step forward on Kashmir without India’s willingness. To placate India, US Acting Assistant Secretary Alice Wells clarified that the US administration welcomes India and Pakistan sitting down to resolve the “bilateral” issues and the “US stands ready to assist”. Realising the sensitivity of the matter after India reacted on expected lines, the US officers took pains to put the thing in perspective, conceding India’s well known stand of “bilateral issue”.

President Trump has a habit of putting a foot in his mouth and he created a flutter at the Press Meet with Imran Khan on July 22, 2019, the State Department, realising the gaffe, immediately clarified it, stating that there is no shift in the US policy on Kashmir. Importantly, there is no mention of Kashmir in any of the press statements issued by the US on meetings of PM Imran Khan with the President and Secretary of the State. In each and every statement there are references to counter terrorism. One of the statements reads, “Several times the issue of terrorism and counter terrorism came up. We really hope that Pakistan fulfills all the promises it has made in the meetings, and the Pakistani leadership has made in the media interviews on eliminating the infrastructure of terrorism in the areas under their control, in an irreversible and credible manner. We hope they stand up to what they have said.”

Unpredictable as Trump is, ‘quoting’ Modi for mediation or arbitration on Kashmir, he has caused huge ‘embarrassment’ to PM Modi and India which must not be Trump’s intention. One thing is very clear, whether Modi had actually said to Trump or not, India is not willing for third party intervention on Kashmir. Kashmir is no issue for Trump whose only concern is to get US forces out of Afghanistan urgently to strengthen his chances for re-election next year.

(Author is a retired IAS officer)feedback: [email protected]

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