Trump’s baseless optimism and limited influence in India
Dr. Zafar Nawaz Jaspal
For a year now, India and Pakistan relations have been at their lowest ebb. New Delhi has time and again rejected the offer of the United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to mediate in resolving the dispute between the neighbors and maintained a similar stance over President Trump's willingness to arbitrate the Kashmir dispute.
On Monday, addressing the ‘Namaste Trump’ rally in Ahmedabad, Trump said his country’s relationship with Pakistan is “very good,” and that his administration was working in a “very positive way with Pakistan to crack down on terrorist organizations and militants which operate on the Pakistani border.”
Indeed, his host must have been upset about the reference to the improvement of relations with Pakistan, but thrilled to hear about the crackdown on ‘terrorist organizations.’ It validates Modi’s frequent mantra of militants operating on the Pakistani border conducting terrorist acts in Indian-held Kashmir.
Trump said, “We are beginning to see signs of big progress with Pakistan, and we are hopeful for reduced tensions, greater stability, and the future of harmony for all of the nations of South Asia.” He expressed his optimism about the lessening of tensions between India and Pakistan, but failed to speak about the Modi government’s unwillingness to change its Kashmir policy or its discriminatory Citizen Amendment Act (CAA).
Regrettably, the trends in India and Pakistan relations are pessimistic. Modi's continuous warmongering rhetoric has further aggravated the situation with Prime Minister Imran Khan responding harshly to the bullying attitude of his Indian counterpart.
The comparative study of India and Pakistan's military capabilities reveals that neither side will win a war. But the escalation of a conflict between the neighbors will not only be dangerous for both states, but also severely undermine the economic security of Indian Ocean rim states.
The Trump administration’s designation of China as a strategic competitor, and its pursuit of a “free and open Indo-Pacific” improved India’s significance in US strategic calculations. The Americans are convinced that a strong, confident India on the world stage is in America’s best interests. But the increasing military power of India is a cause for insecurity for Pakistan.
India emerged as an important market for advanced American weapons. Currently, the US is India’s second largest defense supplier, with military sales totalling $18 billion since 2008. Increasing US-Indian defense trade is viewed intimidatingly in Pakistan.
The continuity of military tensions since the Pulwama attack in February last year and Modi's recurrent hawkish statements have increased the probability of the escalation of the conflict along the Line of Control into an all out war-- even entailing nuclear weapon strikes. Many security analysts have warned that Kashmir is a nuclear flashpoint.
Though the Bharatiya Janata Party led by Modi secured an overwhelming majority in the general elections in 2019, it was defeated in recent state elections, which underscored that Modi’s popularity has been sliding due to his Hindutva policies. These include the failure of his economic program, anti-Kashmir and anti-minority policies. Millions have been protesting over the Citizen Amendment Act and several have lost their lives in the violence.
Modi frequently makes jingoistic statements to divert the attention of the Indian masses from the country's deteriorating economic growth, lockdown of the Kashmiris in Indian-held Kashmir, and the Citizen Amendment Act. He has also threatened to abandon the 1960 Indus Waters Treaty- a water-sharing agreement between India and Pakistan brokered by the World Bank.
The quashing of the Treaty could start a water war. While advising belligerent neighbors for restraint policies, earlier this month, during his visit to Pakistan UNSG Guterres said: "Water must be an instrument of peace and not an instrument of conflict."
The fact is, Trump enjoys limited influence over Modi. New Delhi cannot accede to Washington’s demand that it sever defense ties with Russia entirely. The Indians have been jealously guarding their strategic autonomy and that is why Trump refrained from referencing Kashmir in his Ahmedabad speech.
India is reluctant to third party mediation on the settlement of the Kashmir dispute between India and Pakistan. Therefore, expecting that the Indians might accept Trump’s role in settling the Kashmir dispute is merely wishful thinking.
The Modi government's approach that there is no role or scope for third party mediation and the suspension of a dialogue process only endures the volatile situation between India and Pakistan. Besides, the shift in both states' war doctrines and intimidating exchanges between their ruling elite have the entire region panicked-- and rightly so.