A Cohen Critique: US and J&K

26 Sep, 2013    ·   4124

D Suba Chandran examines American scholarship on J7K through a reading of Stephen Cohen's book, Shooting for a Century

How does the American scholarship sees J&K today, and the role of US? Unlike the South Asian case, in the US, the academic community plays an important role in influencing and reflecting the thinking of the State on various issues. Hence, it is important to analyse the perceptions of the academic community. In this context, the recently published book – Shooting for the Century authored by Prof Stephen Cohen, one of the most important scholars of South Asia in the US is important. He has served in different American administrations and hence a critique of his perspectives on J&K would be significant.

For Cohen, the dispute has not been resolved for three factors – the Cold War between the US and Soviet Union, inflexibility of the States, and the failure of the diaspora in US for projecting the cause of Kashmiris. Besides these three factors, Cohen also makes certain other points on the contemporary issue and the immediate future, which needs a wider discussion.

First, Cohen points out, that the Cold War led by the US and Soviet Union did not see J&K as a regional dispute, but a part of the larger East-West struggle, with India and Pakistan being proxies or treaty allies. True, Cold War may have played an important role in internationalizing the Kashmir dispute since the 1950, but the important question is – has that helped the cause of J&K in reaching a peaceful understanding? If Cold War is one of the primary factors, then the end of Cold War should have helped the international community to perceive J&K as a regional dispute and helping the settlement process.

Ironically, the violence in J&K increased multi fold after the end of Cold War. Was it just a coincidence? And is there a new Great Game being played today with different actors outside, but the same ones within the region? True, Soviet Union is no more and does not play any substantial role in J&K today. However, there seems to be a new global context, in which J&K is again getting sucked into. The US and China are the new global players vying for superiority; while the US wants maintain its influence in Asia and rest of the world, China wants to upset the existing equilibrium, be the undisputed leader in Asia and a leading global power.

As has been discussed in earlier columns, the American Pivot and Rebalancing strategies towards Asia is a part of the US led efforts to check China within Asia. At least that is how China perceives the same; Indo-US strategic partnership and the Indo-US nuclear deal are seen a part of the American strategies to prop up India against China. As a response, China is attempting to cultivate Pakistan to check India within South Asia, and send warning signals to New Delhi not to move closer to the American allies in the rest of Asia, for example in Southeast and East Asia. China’s renewed support to Pakistan’s nuclear weapons programme, taking over of the Gwadar port, building of the Karakoram Highway and the investments in Gilgit-Baltistan are a part of propping up strategy. While the Chinese intrusion in Ladakh should be seen as a part of warning strategies preventing New Delhi from building any partnerships within Asia against China. The Chinese intrusions came weeks before the visit of Manmohan Singh to Japan was no coincidence. With Japan becoming increasingly anti-Chinese and Abe pursuing a hostile approach, China is worried about any larger Indo-Japan strategic partnership with American support.

True, Cold War may be over now, but there are new alignments, which will pull J&K again into an international complex; this should not be seen as “internationalization” of Kashmir issue; it will only make the issue even more intractable.

The second factor that Cohen identifies for the Kashmir conflict not being resolved is the inflexibility of both the States – India and Pakistan. Despite certain significant positive measures during the last decade, especially during Musharraf’s period such as the Ceasefire, opening of the LoC for bus and truck services, the two States continue to remain inflexible. Perhaps, whatever was achieved during the last decade over J&K was due to the leadership in both countries, and not a result of a realization within the respective bureaucracies and the multiple institutions.

With Musharraf no more in the scene, and a new political leadership in Pakistan, how flexible the polity and military is likely to be vis-a-vis J&K? Pakistan is also likely to witness a leadership change within its military; Kayani has to retire shortly and who will replace him will be major issue between the military and new leadership in Pakistan. On the other hand, India is likely to face another elections and Manmohan Singh is today a shadow of what he was during the last decade, in terms of taking any proactive measures towards J&K. Given the changes in leadership, how flexible are India and Pakistan likely to be?

Third factor, equally important one that Cohen highlights is the role of Kashmiri diaspora in the US and how it is seen. To quote Cohen, “the so-called Kashmiri Action Committee a major lobbying effort on behalf of the Kashmir ‘cause’ in the United States – with links to several other countries – was shown to be largely paid for by Pakistan’s intelligence service, the ISI, and its American director was convicted and sentenced to prison. Still the committee pursues the goal of an independent Kashmir, oblivious to the wishes of most Kashmiris and certainly to the views of the Indian government. This remains a diaspora cause, and while the grievances in Kashmir that the committee highlights are real, it forwards no realistic strategy for resolution.”

Role of Kashmiri diaspora in helping the peaceful settlement of J&K dispute is important; what they advocate, which segment they represent, whom did they support and from where did they receive the funds- all have become a source of concern at the international level today. Not only for the Kashmiri diaspora, even for others, for example the Sri Lankan Tamil diaspora from the region, is an issue for countries such as UK, US, Canada and some of the European countries.

There has to be a larger dialogue between J&K and its diaspora. How representative are they today in terms of multiple issues within J&K, and how independent are they today? More importantly, as Cohen asks, do they advocate what the people of J&K want, and have a “realistic strategy for resolution”?

As a conclusion, Cohen argues, “a Kashmir agreement must be 90 percent face-saving; it must find reasons for both sides to accommodate the intensely held fears and feelings of the other, as well as those of Kashmiris.” Can there be such an agreement? Can we work towards it? As he says, this would be difficult, but not impossible.

 By arrangement with Rising Kashmir