Haley Trumps New Delhi

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In a rare break from the longstanding US approach towards the perennially edgy relations between India and Pakistan, the US ambassador to UN Nikki Haley has talked about her country’s plans to involve itself in the efforts to de-escalate tensions between the two countries. “We don’t think, we should wait till something happens,” Haley said while addressing a press conference after assuming the role of President of the Security Council for the month of April. She said that US would try and “find its place” in the relations between India and Pakistan, thereby, in a sense, overlooking New Delhi’s objection to the third party involvement in Indo-Pak disputes. India has predictably responded sharply to the Haley’s statement.  Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Gopal Baglay  has said that India was  for “bilateral redressal of all India-Pakistan issues in an environment free of terror and violence”.  Pakistan, on the other hand, has welcomed the suggestion.  Pakistan’s Washington envoy Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry  said that “any positive role that the US plays to bring peace and stability in South Asia can serve the region well”.

However, the following day, US, apparently in deference to India’s sensitivities, rephrased the offer to facilitate talks between the two countries. “We encourage India and Pakistan to engage in direct dialogue aimed at reducing tensions,” a US state department spokesperson said. This, however, has hardly detracted from the significance of Haley’s statement which left nobody in doubt about the new US administration’s “concern” about the relations between India and Pakistan. It underlines an important departure from the policy of the previous Obama administration. Though Obama during his first election campaign in 2008 had batted for the resolution of Kashmir “so that Pakistan can stay focussed” on Afghanistan, once elected he went silent on the issue. In fact, Kashmir was not even part of the then US envoy for Af-Pak, Richard Halbrooke’s broader remit for the region.

The reason for this is that Washington’s priorities with India are no longer regional in their nature but their scope is the larger geo-politics. In recent years, the US-India engagement has also been about the remaking of the global power equation with India not only being recognized as a global power in its own right but also as a countervailing force to China, the world’s No 2 in waiting. It goes without saying that India’s 1.3 billion population with a value addition of a burgeoning middle class has become an ultimate attraction for the recession-hit and depression threatened west. Besides, India’s calling cards of democracy, secularism and an inclusive political culture have turned the country into an oasis of sorts in a region of dysfunctional countries, autocracies and Chinese communism.

If anything, Haley’s statement shows the unpredictability of the new US administration. It is unlikely that the US will follow a new policy towards the region, considering India is against any foreign meddling on Kashmir. The things are likely to continue along their predictable way. But it is time that New Delhi gives up its squeamishness about the third party involvement and lets the world play a role. This can certainly help in the resolution of Kashmir, a lingering issue that has become the singlemost threat to peace and stability in the region.

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