‘United Nations, America or China cannot help resolve the Kashmir dispute’

  • Raqib Hameed Naik
  • Publish Date: Oct 23 2017 9:54PM
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  • Updated Date: Oct 23 2017 9:54PM
‘United Nations, America or China cannot help resolve the Kashmir dispute’

Paul Staniland, Assistant Director of the Chicago Project on Security and Threats at the University of Chicago, has extensively studied political violence, international security, and state formation, primarily in South and Southeast Asia. He is the author of Networks of Rebellion: Explaining Insurgent Cohesion and Collapse, the winner of Peter Katzenstein Book Prize for the outstanding first book on international relations, comparative politics, or political economy.

In an interview with Ink, Paul talks about the unrest and human rights violations in Kashmir; recent developments in American policy on the region, and the role of the US, China and Pakistan in the dispute.





Lately, there have been many developments in the United States’ Kashmir policy. First, they declared Syed Salahuddin a “global terrorist” and then designated his Hizbul Mujahideen a “terrorist organisation”. Don’t you think the US’ Kashmir policy under Donald Trump’s administration is looking more favourable to India than its war on terror ally Pakistan?


Publicly, yes, the Trump administration is tilting towards India and distancing itself from Pakistan. However, it remains to be seen if major policy shifts will, in fact, occur toward Pakistan, distinct from rhetoric. I expect more tension and some real distancing to indeed occur, but I don’t expect the kind of radical break that Trump’s rhetoric suggests. Pakistan remains a useful country for the United States when it comes to Afghanistan and Al Qaeda, and the US is useful to Pakistan’s military and political elite in turn.


Will this have any impact on the militant organisations fighting against Indian rule in Kashmir?


I don’t think there will be much fallout from the US’ decision. Kashmir is not an important area of focus for the Trump administration, so I do not anticipate major changes in the policy. US policy has little impact on Hizbul Mujahideen’s operations anyway, so I think this decision was mainly aimed at giving Narendra Modi a symbolic win during his visit without incurring substantial costs for the US.


Despite clear evidence of human rights violations in Kashmir by the Indian forces, what keeps the United States from speaking out?


The last thing the US wants is to offend India or to find itself portrayed as on the same side as Pakistan. The Indian government is very sensitive about foreign criticism of what it views as purely internal affairs and India’s importance to US foreign policy makes American policymakers particularly averse to this kind of criticism. Kashmir is seen in Washington DC as an extremely challenging problem that is not worth the risk of getting substantially involved in beyond vague public statements and some gentle behind-the-scenes suggestions. The perceived Islamist tint of components of the Kashmiri independence movement also seriously limits its appeal in DC. The last thing the US wants is to alienate India as Washington tries to balance China, gain leverage on Pakistan, and maintain its overall position in Asia. It’s also difficult to overstate the level of policy drift in Washington right now; an atmosphere of constant political crisis, mixed with presidential incompetence, is not a recipe for sustained, difficult foreign policy strategies on delicate issues.


Lately, China has been taking too much interest in Kashmir and, being an ally of Pakistan, is supporting its stand on the dispute. China is emerging as a global economic and military power, so do you think it can pressure India to talk with different stakeholders on Kashmir? 


I don’t think China has the ability to pressure India into talks with the Hurriyat Conference or anyone else. If anything, Chinese involvement is likely to make the Modi government even more resistant to policy change, for fear of being seen as having been bullied into giving concessions. It’s clear that China is increasingly being seen as threatening in Delhi.



In July 2017, former chief minister Farooq Abdullah suggested third-party mediation to resolve the Kashmir dispute. Is there a third party that can bring India and Pakistan to the table?


This probably won’t be a popular opinion, but at this point I don’t see a credible third-party country that could play a major role in pushing talks forward. The US, as I said, is not interested and the Indians don’t trust the Chinese, so it’s hard to think of other major players that could bring clout to bear. You could imagine an international organisation or a small neutral country facilitating talks, but only if India and Pakistan both want to come to the table, rather than this outside actor being able to force them to do so.



What do you make of the unrest of 2008, 2010 and 2016 in Kashmir?

I see the protests as reflecting deep political dysfunction in the structure of government in J&K. Some of this involves the Centre’s role in manipulating politics in the valley, some reflect the failures of the pro-Delhi political parties, and much reflects the simple fact that many Kashmiris just don’t see themselves as Indian. Delhi has not moved really at all in response – interlocutors come and go, speeches are made, but nothing much changes. There is a deep ideological commitment – in both the BJP and the Congress, for somewhat different reasons – to keeping Kashmir in India and limiting autonomy. Within Kashmir, political and organisational fragmentation is a major problem for turning mobilisation into political power. I don’t see this changing anytime soon and I expect the same basic cycle of uprising and state crackdown to depressingly continue on and off into the future: Delhi will claim a return to normalcy and point to indicators that support that position; protests will erupt in ways the state doesn’t see coming and trigger a new crisis; government responses and fatigue will eventually wear down the protests without underlying grievances going away. And the process will repeat, against the backdrop of ongoing low-level militancy.


There has been talk of abrogating Articles 370 and 35A of the Indian constitution which grant special rights to Jammu and Kashmir. How do you see this affecting the Kashmir dispute?

The BJP has been very successful in cultivating Hindu nationalism in Jammu, in part by tapping into a deep resentment among many in Jammu that the Valley has historically received undue attention and power. I think the debates over Articles 370 and 35A are a canny political strategy to mobilise the BJP vote, in Jammu and nationally, in opposition to what is framed as a disloyal, ungrateful and impossible-to-satisfy Muslim Kashmir Valley. I think this will further polarise J&K as well as Indian public opinion on the issue. Though it’s hard to precisely measure this, I don’t think there are deep reservoirs of sympathy for Kashmiris in much of India, and the BJP is counting on turning that latent sentiment into active opposition to anything that suggests autonomy or special status. The BJP doesn’t even need to really make any real policy changes to make this a live political issue to its benefit.



Last summer, the government used indiscriminate force against protesting youth, killing more than 100 and blinding hundreds. The evidence of atrocities by the Indian military has been well documented. Don’t you think India should be held accountable for these crimes by the United Nations Security Council?

The UN system is basically non-functional at this point. Russia, France, the United Kingdom and the United States are unlikely to target a rising India with which they all have ties. The UN is willing to get involved in weak countries or in situations where key parties are interested in a deal but need help. In powerful countries that don’t want UN intervention, like India, Pakistan, China, Turkey, Russia, the US, the UN has little to no relevance.


After the killing of the militant commander Burhan Wani last July, more and more educated youth are joining militant ranks. What are your views on this?

This suggests many Kashmiris have decided that there is no non-violent political path forward, even among those who might have economic opportunities. It’s hard to tell what percentage of educated youth have actually joined militant groups, for obvious reasons. But it does suggest serious limits on Delhi’s focus on development/tourism as the way to siphon energy away from political mobilisation. There is a line I have often heard in India that encouraging economic growth will substitute for political change in pacifying Kashmir. I don’t think that is correct, but it’s a seductive logic that avoids making hard policy choices or changes.


What role do you think the Kashmiri diaspora in the US can play to help bring US policies in line with the aspirations of Kashmiri people?

 The Kashmiri diaspora is not a major player in US politics. The dominant South Asian diaspora community is Indian-Americans, who are much more powerful in the American political system.



What role do you think the US should play in resolving the Kashmir dispute?

I think the US can facilitate and encourage India-Pakistan dialogue when there is interest on both sides. But my opinion doesn’t really matter. The US has limited influence over either India or Pakistan when it comes to issues that they view as core to their national interests. Above all, there is zero domestic appetite in the United States for foreign entanglements, the State Department is hollowed out, and I have little faith in Donald Trump’s ability to do anything remotely constructive on essentially any issue. This is a pretty bleak prognosis, unfortunately. The United States is not taking on new policy initiatives overseas, much less those that could upset allies who are not interested in American involvement.