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Kashmir: The View from America

by Howard Schaffer, Brookings Institution Press (2009), Reviewed by Sudheer Apte Email by Howard Schaffer, Brookings Institution Press (2009),  Reviewed by Sudheer Apte
July 2009
Kashmir: The View from America

The Limits of Influence: America’s Role in Kashmir

Howard B. Schaffer has served in the Foreign Service under multiple administrations and in multiple capitals. After stints in India and Pakistan, he served as ambassador to Bangladesh from 1984-87.

In this book, Schaffer advises the U.S. government on what its role should be in finding a settlement for “the Kashmir problem,” the territorial dispute between India and Pakistan over Jammu and Kashmir. Schaffer offers a detailed history of U.S. involvement in the Kashmir dispute: its part in the UNCIP deliberations through the early 1950s, the long lull before the Nixon “tilt” toward Pakistan and the breakup of Pakistan in 1971, the Clinton intervention in the 1999 Kargil war, and most recently the crises provoked by the post-9/11 terrorist attacks in India.

The book jacket’s front photograph shows a road sign, presumably close to the border, saying, “Warning: journey ahead prohibited for foreigners.” The sign is apt, and from Schaffer's observations, its proscription could apply to foreign diplomats trying to influence the outcome of this particular conflict. Schaffer outlines the diplomatic landmines that South Asian hands must negotiate around the sensitivities in India and Pakistan.

As an example, the 1993 appointment of Robin Raphel as the Assistant Secretary of State in charge of the new South Asia bureau caused consternation in India because she was perceived as excessively sympathetic to Pakistan.Raphel said that the U.S. position implies that “we do not recognize the instrument of accession as meaning that Kashmir is forever an integral part of India.” This statement was perceived in both India and Pakistan as a change in the official U.S. position on the dispute. Indian officials were incensed, and their Pakistani counterparts were overjoyed, because this position undermined the core basis of India's original claim on Jammu and Kashmir.

Schaffer notes that this view on the instrument of accession was a long-standing U.S. position, based on a State Department internal memo originally written in 1950 by McGhee and Hickerson. While it may have been commonly known within the department as the official U.S. position, the memo had been confidential; hence the position was unknown in India and Pakistan.

In his notes, Schaffer calls Indian suspicions about Raphel's pro-Pakistan bias "silly". He says that even now, many Indians "unfairly" think of her as a diplomat who was hostile to India's interests.However, in October 2007, the Washington insider paper The Hill reported that Raphel's firm in Washington took on a $1.2 million lobbying contract for the government of Pakistan. So it seems that some of the Indian suspicions may not have been so unfair after all.

In the last chapter, Schaffer offers some recommendations to President Obama, who as a candidate expressed his interest in intervening more forcefully to try to solve the Kashmir problem. Schaffer lists several reasons why the U.S. should be more assertive now, and provides many suggestions on what the next steps should be.

The main thrust of his suggestions is how to get Indians to offer some sort of special status to the state within the Indian Union. Such concessions, he implies, would help resolve the dispute. It is easy to see what the prerequisite would be from the Indian side, and it is surprising that Schaffer does not mention them.

Schaffer, whose book is supported by extensive bibliographic notes and also includes a very helpful chronology of the American role in the dispute, says that Pakistan continues to support “Islamic militancy” in Jammu and Kashmir, and refers to Pakistan-armed fighters being injected into the state from outside. He also mentions Indian suspicions that Pakistan is responsible for terror attacks committed against India outside Jammu and Kashmir, including the bombing of the Indian embassy in Kabul in June 2008 and the Mumbai attacks in November 2008.

Indian leaders have repeatedly stated that any concessions are a non-starter unless this violence ceases. But Schaffer fails to suggest that the United States should use its influence in Pakistan to stop the violence. While there have been assurances in the past from then-President Musharraf, and more recently from President Zardari, that all Pakistani sponsorship of violence has ceased, events have repeatedly proved them wrong.

This brings up the broader question of Pakistan’s ability to effectively formulate and execute its own policies. It’s unclear whether Pakistan's civilian leadership, army, judiciary and intelligence services are working together. Under these circumstances, any settlement of disputes with Pakistan can only be provisional. More than any offers from the United States of “good offices” to the two countries for talking to each other, actual efforts toward getting the Pakistani state back on its feet might be a worthwhile contribution. Then there might actually be someone in power for the Indians to talk to.

The book is supported by extensive bibliographic notes, and it also includes a very helpful chronology of the American role in the dispute.

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