Pakistan’s Kashmir emissaries draw a blank in Washington

A Pakistani effort to drum up support on Kashmir here last week was met with a cold response from American interlocutors and opinion-makers. Pakistani parliamentarians Shazra Mansab Ali and Mushahid Hussain spoke at two think-tank events and met officials of the U.S. State Department, but their diplomatic brinkmanship that bordered on open threats to America appears to have not gone down well.

The two are among the several special envoys of the Pakistani Prime Minister on Kashmir now touring world capitals in the light of new tensions with India. They set out in unambiguous terms what Pakistan’s thinking is on its relationships with China, the U.S. and India.

The two made the following arguments in their interactions: America is a power in decline and it does not keep its words. Therefore, Pakistan has no obligation to support America: Pakistan and China are the only two countries in the world that have a 100 percent convergence on all strategic questions that are key to both; Hillary Clinton’s 2011 intention to create a new Silk Road with India, made in a speech in Chennai, and Barack Obama’s Pivot to Asia make it clear that the U.S. is siding with India; Pakistan supports China’s claims in South China Sea “100 per cent”; Pakistan cannot be internationally isolated. It has China and Russia supporting it; There can be no peace in Afghanistan unless there is peace in Kashmir. Therefore, America must intervene; and if India wants to occupy the global high table, it has to resolve issues with Pakistan and the “ball is in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s court”.

Road to Kabul

“Road to peace in Kabul passes through Kashmir. You cannot compartmentalise and segregate these issues. Peace in South Asia must be comprehensive,” Mr. Hussain said at an event at Stimson Center this week. It is not that Richard Olson, Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, and Peter Lavoy, Senior Director for South Asian Affairs at the National Security Council — who is the foremost policymaker for the region — are unsympathetic to this argument. The Pakistan leaders met these American officials during their stay. The Barack Obama administration has viewed South Asia as a compact, and therefore has in the past nudged the Modi government to engage Pakistan in talks, so that some common ground emerges between the two countries, including on Afghanistan.

Overstretched line

But Pakistan appears to have already overstretched this line of argument, and in its last leg, the Obama administration is highly doubtful of Pakistan’s abilities and intentions about Afghanistan.

The signals to this effect came when these American officials went to New Delhi en route to Kabul in April and met Indian officials, including National Security Adviser Ajit Doval.

“The bottom line is that Pakistan has a credibility problem in Washington, and much of the messaging of its envoys — which includes perfectly reasonable and accurate comments about Beijing’s support for Islamabad and Washington’s siding with New Delhi — will likely fall on deaf ears,” said Michael Kugelman, senior associate for South and Southeast Asia at the Woodrow Wilson Center.

A tall order

“When Pakistani envoys come to Washington to try to bring attention to Kashmir, it’s always a tall order, because of Washington’s short attention span and its fixation on a variety of foreign policy crises around the globe. But their job is even tougher now with the Obama administration winding down its term and election fever everywhere. Those are two major distractions.

They also face the reality of deepening U.S.-India relationship, which will make Washington hesitant to take public positions on Kashmir so as to avoid upsetting New Delhi.”

From a more cynical perspective, the relative weight of Kashmir in American policy discourse had been severely diminished owing to the chaos in other parts of the world. Michael Krepon, co-founder of Stimson Center and South Asia expert, asked the Pak envoys: “Kashmir is modest by comparison with many other parts. When is it so hard for the U.S. to get involved in a more helpful way in Syria, why should the U.S. get more involved in Kashmir,” Mr. Krepon, usually sympathetic to Pakistan, sought to know what are the three things Pakistan could do to improve the relations when Mr. Hussain listed three things that Indian must do.

The State Department officials repeated their comment that America’s position on Kashmir has not changed and India and Pakistan must resolve it bilaterally.