Steinmeier’s Kashmir remarks: Germany’s delicate dance in South Asia?

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Is Germany evolving into a power pole in Europe around which other states may rally around? 

Frank Walter Steinmeier- the German Foreign Minister- has after concluding a visit to Afghanistan said that, deep issues like Kashmir should be part of the talks between India and Pakistan as dialogue is the only way forward. The statement, which was made in Islamabad, Pakistan, comes in the wake of the breakdown and cancellation of NSA level talks between India and Pakistan. On the face of it, the statement is significant: the K word has once again been raised by a member of the international community- an aspect or even a theme that the Indian state’s diplomacy actively has and does try to excise from the lexicon of the international community. Steinmeir’s assertions also attain significance against the back drop of the Kashmir Concert which was backed and organized by the German Embassy in Kashmir. The Concert that elicited controversy and even resentment in Kashmir was held by some to be either a compliment to India or even   back handed pat on the Indian state’s narrative on Kashmir. So why has Steinmeir said what he said and what,(if at all any) significance does it have?

The answers to these questions are multi-faceted. The first prong of the answer, however, is deconstruction of Steinmeier’s statement. The German foreign minister’s statement is conspicuous by what he did not say. Steinmeier did not refer to the conflict in and over Kashmir as a dispute; he called it a deep issue. Deep implies and connotes complexity and issue can mean anything; the word certainly does not have connotations as the words conflict or dispute have. The German state then is not wading into the Indo Pak imbroglio over Kashmir. It is neither validating a claim nor taking sides. What is Steinmeier saying then? All that he is saying is that India and Pakistan should engage each other in a dialogue. But here is the undertone; Steinmeier appears to be rooting for insertion of Kashmir into talks between India and Pakistan. Again this means nothing. The man is neither saying explicitly that Kashmiris should be a party to the talks nor is he specifying a role for third party mediation. What then is the import of the German foreign minister’s statement? Here the now aborted NSA level talks assume significance: the ostensible sticking point of the NSA talks breakdown was Kashmir; India did not want to include Kashmir in the talks agenda but Pakistan insisted on it. Steinmeier , through his statement and  saying that Kashmir should be included in the talks appears to be taking sides- this time with Pakistan.

The question now is how does the apparent side taking square with Germany’s alleged tilt towards India with the Kashmir concert being an indication of this? Is this a contradiction? Is German foreign policy then driven by contradictory impulses? Is it hypocritical? Or is German foreign policy following a neat and clear template? And what implications flow from this on the South Asian region?

It would appear that German foreign policy is indeed following a neat and clear template or paradigm. This paradigm corresponds to the tenets of realism wherein state interests or raison detat reign supreme. In this schema, Germany operates in a world of states and given this has to eke out maximum room for maneuver and leverage for itself in a world of competing states. Of course, what would inform German foreign policy in this schema is its own interest. So what is Germany’s interest in South Asia especially vis a vis arch rivals India and Pakistan? German interest in South Asia appears to be twofold: security, power, power maximization and influence. In terms of security, Germany’s core interest lies with Pakistan but in terms of power, influence and power maximization, India reigns supreme. It is this that explains the Kashmir Concert and now Steinmeier’s remarks in Islamabad. The question is how?

Consider security and Pakistan first. Post ISAF exit from Afghanistan, there is a residual NATO presence of around 13000 troops in Afghanistan. Even though the majority of the troop component is American, there is a chunk of European troops too. This rump presence in Afghanistan is also slated to exit the country soon. What happens after they leave? Pakistan is both key and the wild card here. The country for both strategic and political reasons has manipulated the politics and security of Afghanistan and it retains the capacity to be either a spoiler or  a stabilizer in Afghanistan. Peace and stability in Afghanistan is then contingent on Pakistan and the international community is vested in both in the country lest it become a hub of outward directed militancy. Pakistan knows its importance vis a vis Afghanistan and this importance is obvious to the international community like Germany. By saying what he said in Islamabad, Steinmeier is pandering to his hosts by saying what they want to hear by essentially saying nothing.

What about Germany’s interest in India? The country’s interest in India pertains to the evolving shape, form and drift of international relations: emerging and putative multipolarity and the relative decline of the United States. The world is gradually but inexorably moving to a more multipolar configuration amidst the relative decline of the United States. In this putative order, India is an emerging power with which Germany would like good relations. Hence the Kashmir concert and other developments between the two countries on a range of fronts like trade.

The question now is why is Germany re-asserting itself in international relations and politics? Post War German politics was more or less Eurocentric. Its historical rivalry with France was subsumed under the rubric of the European Union and constructing the European Union. Looking beyond the shores of Europe was anathema to Post War generation of Germans traumatized by the experience of war; Pacifism appeared to be structurally woven into the entrails of German policy and polity. This, however, appears to be changing. Germany appears to be looking outward and engaging the world beyond the European Union. If correct, this would be in the nature of a paradigm shift and would have implications for European Union and Germany’s position and role in it. Specifically, it could mean that Germany is gradually evolving and morphing into a power pole in Europe around which other states may rally around. From a broader perspective, this may be indicative of a broader and larger churn in international politics. We then live in interesting times.

Now coming back to Steinmeier’s remarks in Islamabad and Germany’s expanding and deepening relationship with India, both  correspond to the tenets and maxims of realism wherein states maximize their security and power.  Germany in becoming a  normal state is playing both India and Pakistan like Zubin Mehta conducts his orchestras and concerts- in Kashmir or elsewhere. Where does all this leave Kashmir? Frozen as usual is the answer.

Wajahat Qazi is a senior Editor at the Kashmir Observer.

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Wajahat Qazi

Masters with Distinction in International Relations from the University of Aberdeen. Worked as Senior Policy Analyst to the Government of Kashmir and later as Associate Editor of Kashmir Observer.

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