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Posted at: Jul 24, 2019, 6:44 AM; last updated: Jul 24, 2019, 11:33 AM (IST)

US readiness to ‘assist’ dialogue stokes fears

Modi govt needs to quickly work out Plan B, if it is to ensure the dispute remains a bilateral affair
US readiness to ‘assist’ dialogue stokes fears
US President Donald Trump and PM Narendra Modi at a bilateral on June 28 on the sidelines of the G20 Summit in Osaka, Japan. file photo

Sandeep Dikshit
Tribune News Service
New Delhi, July 23

Happenings at the White House on Monday evening when US President Donald Trump and Pakistan PM  Imran Khan addressed the media should make the South Block sit up, despite External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar’s categorical denial in Parliament today that PM Narendra Modi had sought third-party intervention on the Kashmir issue.

That New Delhi was completely blindsided about the Trump-Khan agenda setting aside a hefty portion on Kashmir speaks poorly of its influence in the portals of the US Government, despite having tied itself in a permanent relationship for American oil, military equipment and China-containment strategy in the South China Sea.

The political storm may have blown over in India, but a subsequent US State Department background note stokes fears that American intervention in the Kashmir dispute may not be that easily wished away.

The note begins with the stock phrase that Kashmir is a bilateral issue for both parties to discuss. It then goes on to underline US willingness to act as a monitor, stating that it is “ready to assist” in an India-Pakistan dialogue on Kashmir. There is some balm for India with the US pointing out that the foundation of any successful India-Pak dialogue must be based on Pakistan taking “sustained and irreversible steps against militants and terrorists on its territory.”

This is exactly what the Modi government has been stating since the Pathankot attack in 2016. But what it would not like to countenance is the State Department stating for the second time in the brief note that, “as the President indicated, we stand ready to assist.”

India under Indira Gandhi had not pressed home the advantage gained from the 1971 war to extract an undertaking from Pakistan in the Simla Agreement to keep out any meddlesome outside power in the resolution of outstanding issues. Twenty-eight years later, then PMs Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Nawaz Sharif made the same reiteration. That understanding now stands on shaky legs, especially after Imran Khan agreed with Trump’s formulations.

The US stand on Afghanistan is a double blow. Despite its humanitarian assistance in Afghanistan, India has felt cut out from discussions. A crucial meeting in Beijing that green-lighted the intra-Afghan dialogue was predictably attended by the three majors – the US, Russia and China. The surprise element at the meeting was Pakistan.

US Special Envoy for Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad in the region for a 10-day tour is yet to pencil India as a destination. The Indian political and diplomatic set-up can pull things back if it persuades Khalilzad to break bread with them. For, the pro-India regime in Kabul, especially the Northern Alliance, would be inclined to jump ship if it perceived New Delhi as being pointedly excluded from confabulations on a settlement in Afghanistan.

India’s sole comfort is the virulent reaction from Kabul to Trump’s indication that resolving Afghanistan was all about Pakistan and the US joining hands in earnest. But as far as the all-important issue of Kashmir is concerned — the violence and the human rights situation is already making a comeback at international fora — the Modi government needs to quickly have a plan B if it is to continue making the dispute a bilateral affair.

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