Will Trump Play A Hardball On Kashmir?



Srinagar: Much of India’s complacency about US president-elect Donald Trump could disappear with the latest news out of Washington. A confident India believed that Trump and Prime Minister Narendra Modi would get along like a house on fire, considering both are unconventional politicians. The Republican Hindu coalition supporters had Trump mouth a variation of Modi’s election catchphrase  "Abki baar, Modi sarkar". The large Hindutva support base of American-Indians in the US, who opted for the Republican candidate for his perceived antagonism against Muslims and his promise to bar Muslims from entering America, will be shocked by his latest assertions.

A businessman without any experience of public life, Trump is at best, unpredictable. His gushing conversation with Pakistan prime minister Nawaz Sharif is a case in point. Now the vice-president elect, Mike Pence has thrown more uncertainty into the equation by talking of the "extraordinary deal-making skills" Trump brings to the Oval Office, which could help him resolve the Kashmir dispute between India and Pakistan. This would be just what the doctor ordered for Pakistan, getting the world’s only superpower ready to play arbitrator.

If there is one thing that the squabbling Indian political parties agree on, it is that India-Pakistan and the Kashmir problem will have to be solved by the two countries. From the very beginning, third party intervention was the proverbial red line for successive Indian governments. Despite Pakistan’s best efforts to get the international community involved, India stood firm on ensuring that no third party could play peacemaker. Will things change with an unpredictable president in charge? Will the growing warmth in India-US ties come under strain during the Trump presidency?


With Trump announcing General James Mattis as his new defence secretary in the next administration, are we back to the old days of US-Pakistan bonhomie? A retired general, Mattis is familiar with Afghanistan and Pakistan. Like all senior US military officials, he knows the top Pakistani military brass and the thinking of the generals in Rawalpindi. After all, as Cold War allies, the defence forces of the US and Pakistan have a long history of working together. The US and Pakistani military, together with the CIA and ISI worked jointly at the time the Russian soldiers were in Afghanistan.

The enormous funds and the weapons that the US provided to the various mujahideen groups were routed through Pakistan. Mattis, as head of the US Central Command between 2010 and 2013, had Pakistan and Afghanistan as part of his watch. He understand the Pakistani Army’s obsession with India and fears of India’s expanded footprints in Afghanistan. In the early days of US deployment in Pakistan, the US military in their attempt to get Pakistan’s cooperation was keen to placate the generals by ensuring that India’s role in Afghanistan was minimal.

Later, the love-fest between the US and Pakistan army went sour, but James Mattis continues to have an excellent rapport with the Pakistani army. The Trump cabinet is filled with former generals, which is creating some unease among a section of Americans. Generals are more comfortable with the military and may lead to a better US-Pakistan equation. India need not be concerned over this if the Trump administration can persuade the Pakistani army to act against all terror groups, including the anti-India and anti-Afghan government groups. Will the new administration pamper the Pakistani Army to help in Washington’s long term strategic goal of stabilsing Afghanistan? In short, will the old pro-Pakistan tilt in US policy in the subcontinent resurface with Trump?

That could well be, but India is also no pushover. When President Barack Obama appointed the late diplomat Richard Holbrooke as special envoy in charge of Pakistan-Afghanistan and India, New Delhi made sure that the US diplomat got a short shrift in India and he was confined to Af-Pak region. Despite travelling to Delhi, he was not given much access here.

There is little the US can do to play peacemaker if New Delhi refuses to play ball. Also, Trump, once he takes office, may be very different from Trump the president-elect. As a rule, Republican administrations have been good for India. The India-US civil nuclear agreement was signed and sealed by George W Bush’s Republican Administration. But again, Trump is not the usual Republican. Trump remains an enigma not just to India but to the international community as a whole. No one knows what to expect. He may be whimsical or he may grow into his role and become a mature responsible president.

India will resist all attempts to by the US to play peacemaker between India and Pakistan to resolve Kashmir. It is unlikely that Trump can do much when India rebuffs his offer. Considering the huge Indian market that American companies are eyeing, and the fact that the Indian economy can remain unscathed by demonetisation, the businessman in Trump is unlikely to brush off India. Also his concerns about China would inevitably lead to reliance on India to counter China in the region.

But with Trump one can never be too sure about anything!


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