The transition to Democratic leadership in the United States under US President Joe Biden has renewed hopes for peaceful resolution of the Kashmir dispute.
Not least because the Vice President Kamala Harris is on record for having pledged not to leave the suffering Kashmiris alone, a possibility that may translate into reality if the international stakeholders of peace in Kashmir are able to generate enough diplomatic momentum in the light of current Indian repression in the disputed region.
By annexing and dividing the disputed region of Jammu and Kashmir in August 2019 and thereafter undertaking an unprecedented process of political and demographic marginalization of its largely Muslim populace, India’s BJP government of Prime Minister Narender Modi has taken the fate of Kashmiri Muslims to the next level of state repression. If the key issue before was India’s refusal to implement the UN Security resolutions in the disputed territory, now it is India’s subversion of the UN mandate on the dispute by complicating its peaceful resolution through territorial annexation and division, and subsequent demographic transformation.
Therefore, by default, the unfolding tragedy in Jammu and Kashmir offers a rare opportunity for proactive diplomacy, which is reinforced by a possible shift in regional geopolitics after the end of populist Republicanism under President Trump in the US.
To be sure, the post-Cold War period has blurred the ideological frontiers across political party lines in the US and the rest of the world. Hence, on the issues of war and peace, we have not seen much difference in the policy approaches of successive US Republican and Democratic administrations. Yet, if we take the case of the Iran nuclear deal, it was initiated by the Obama Administration but then reversed by the Trump Administration. Now there are renewed hopes for its revival under the Biden Administration.
Of course, the Kashmir struggle, like other legitimate national liberation movements, was marginalized by the post-9/11 War on Terror, during which states like India got the opportunity to portray any instance of politically motivated conflict against state authorities as terrorism. The subsequent rise of right-wing regimes led by populist leaders, from Trump to Modi and elsewhere, constituted a global trend, which allowed extremists in India to exacerbate the Kashmiri tragedy. In the past year or so, the COVID-19 pandemic has also distracted world attention from regional conflicts, where Kashmiri Muslims have paid the ultimate price.
Biden’s victory in US elections brings a sigh of relief, as populist leaders and authoritarian regimes may not be able to get away with actions with impunity as they did during the Trump era. This means that Prime Minister Modi may face greater international scrutiny over his actions against Kashmiri people and Muslim minority in India. With the expected recession in global pandemic in 2021, conflict resolution may also regain the lost world attention. Overtime, the global terrorist wave has considerably receded as well. Therefore, India’s portrayal of Kashmiri resistance as terrorist violence may find less diplomatic appeal in the world capitals in future.
It has been amply clear from the policy discourse of President Biden and Vice President Harris in the run up to November 2020 elections and thereafter that the Democratic Administration may try to disengage the US from regional conflicts and instead offer its good offices for amicable settlement of lingering disputes. Both of them have publicly criticised the Modi government over its actions in occupied Jammu and Kashmir since August 2019.
Successive US administrations have refused to mediate between India and Pakistan over Kashmir, despite the latter’s consistent desire for the purpose. Yet, ensuring regional peace and security has been a consistent theme of US policy in South Asia. That is why whenever tensions have arisen in Indo-Pak ties over Kashmir, as in the case of Pulwama incident in February 2019, Washington has intervened to manage the crisis. However, while Kashmir remains a nuclear flashpoint, the immediate US focus remains on its military disengagement from Afghanistan, for which the Trump Administration has laid the foundation of a workable peace accord between Taliban and the Afghan government through Pakistan’s help. The Biden Administration would like to sustain this peace process. In return, Pakistan will continue to seek US help in Kashmir settlement through implementing UN Security Council resolutions.
Last but not the least, the China factor in the context of Kashmir dispute has assumed greater significance for Pakistan, especially in view of India’s annexation of Ladakh as a separate entity from the rest of occupied Jammu and Kashmir territory. Given its persisting sensitivity over the Tibetan plateau, China has reacted offensively to India’s divide-and-rule policy in the disputed region, as apparent from the Sino-Indian border clashes in the past year. Since 2013, the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor has helped Beijing and Islamabad to deepen their strategic ties. Hence, Pakistan is likely to coordinate its Kashmir diplomacy with China, a permanent member of the UN Security Council, where the future of peace in Kashmir ultimately lies.