By Inderjit Badhwar
US President Trump is notorious for talking from both sides of his mouth, lying, obfuscating reality, distorting history, contradicting himself without batting an eyelid or suffering even the teeniest bit of remorse. This was in evidence again when he told newspersons in the Oval Office during Pakistan Premier Imran Khan’s visit to Washington that Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi had personally requested him to resolve the Jammu and Kashmir issue through mediation.
Sure, panic buttons were pressed all across Delhi because of the geopolitical embarrassment this must have caused the Indian foreign policy establishment, mostly Modi himself, because of India’s long-standing and unflinching public proclamations as well as adherence to the doctrine that there shall not be any third party meddling or arbitration to resolve the conflict in J&K, an integral part of the Indian Union. This position was legally buttressed by the Simla Agreement signed by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and President Zulfikar Ali Bhutto of Pakistan on July 2, 1972 following the 1971 war.
On a larger level, however, Trump’s bombshell appeared to signal a new US tilt towards Pakistan shortly after he had all but declared Pakistan a rogue nation that supports terrorists and had cut off billions of dollars of military aid to that nation. This was hailed in India as a major diplomatic coup in which New Delhi had been granted the status of a major strategic ally of Washington, destined to play a prominent role in bringing peace to Afghanistan and “containing” the spread of Chinese influence in the region.
Pakistan is now exulting over what it considers a coup de grace by Prime Minister Khan that has brought it back to centrestage in the Afghanistan imbroglio with the real possibility of a renewed flow of US military and economic aid that will further strengthen the hands of the Pakistani military-ISI complex.
Actually, in publicly proclaiming that Modi had asked the US to mediate a settlement in Kashmir, Trump—if he sticks to that statement—has reversed the impact of decades of Indian diplomacy which, starting with Bill Clinton’s presidency, had persuaded the Americans from resiling from the traditional American Cold War attitude of tilting towards Pakistan and equating Delhi and Islamabad on the Kashmir issue.
Imran Khan and Pakistan’s Washington-based diplomats and lobbyists did not play any new card in getting Trump to say what he did. In fact, they played a very, very old and effective card against which past Indian diplomacy has been quite helpless. It’s called the “loyalty-sympathy card”. And in the period that India has been boasting of its new love affair with Uncle Sam, following the hugs-and-visits stage shows and Trump’s denunciation of Pakistan, the Pakistanis, instead of going into an anti-American sulk, have quietly been playing this card to the hilt. And Imran Khan played it with a new gusto.
It’s not very complicated to people who have seen it played before. It goes like this. The Pakistani military and ISI have a bonding with the American CIA and the military chiefs that few other Asian nations enjoy. While Indian diplomats indulge in moralising and intellectualising, the Pakis and their lobbyists ceaselessly remind American lawmakers and the administration that the Americans have been ungrateful to their most loyal and trustworthy friend and ally—Pakistan. They remind them that while India was a Russian “stooge” under the pretence of “non-alignment” during the Cold War, Pakistan had joined the SEATO and CENTO anti-Communist alliances and even given the Americans air bases in the country.
They remind the Americans that Pakistan had helped open the doors for Washington to interact with Beijing during the Nixon-Kissinger years. They remind them that Pakistanis had martyred themselves as fighting allies of the Americans in helping create jehadi warriors to force the Soviets to retreat from Afghanistan, and then helped them in their global war against Al Qaeda. They remind the Americans that they are betraying their very own “Frontline State”. A poor used and abused ally.
To cap it all, Imran Khan played Trump like a violin. Khan’s words were music to Trump’s megalomaniacal ears: “I will be asking President Trump. It’s the most powerful country in the world, the United States. It can play the most important role in bringing peace in the subcontinent. You know, there are over a—over a billion and a quarter people in the subcontinent. They are held hostage to the issue of Kashmir.
“And I feel that only the most powerful state, headed by President Trump, can bring the two countries together. From my point, I can tell you, we have tried our best. We’ve made all overtures to India to start dialogue, resolve our differences through dialogue. But unfortunately, we haven’t made headway as yet. But I’m hoping that President Trump would push this process.”
Trump replied: “So I was with Prime Minister Modi two weeks ago, and we talked about this subject. And he actually said, ‘Would you like to be a mediator or arbitrator?’ I said, ‘Where?’ He said, ‘Kashmir.’ Because this has been going on for many, many years. I was surprised at how long; it’s been going on a long…”
Imran: “Seventy years.”
Trump: “And I think they’d like to see it resolved. And I think you’d like to see it resolved. And if I can help, I would love to be a mediator. It shouldn’t be—I mean, it’s impossible to believe two incredible countries that are very, very smart, with very smart leadership, can’t solve a problem like that. But if you would want me to mediate or arbitrate, I would be willing to do that.”
Imran: “President, I can tell you that right now, it would, you will have the prayers of over a billion people if you can mediate and resolve this issue.”
The Pakistani lobbying even has the American media convinced that various United Nations resolutions call for a mediated settlement in Kashmir. In fact, a senior journalist asked Trump at that same press conference: “There is another security threat in South Asia, and that is the Kashmir dispute unresolved even by the United Nations and even by the US, who voted in support of that resolution in the UN. Now, are you going to make any kind of submission and intervention, President Trump? (Are you) going to play any role in that Kashmir, where millions have been dead?”
Kashmiri separatists and advocates of Pakistan’s position on Kashmir argue emotionally: By denying the Kashmiris the right to self-determination and deploying its army there, isn’t India occupying Kashmir by force? Those who seek mediation on Kashmir in order to establish a locus standi for Pakistan—even as India argues that J&K is India’s internal problem to be resolved between the people of that state and New Delhi—forcefully argue that the UN pledge of a plebiscite gave Pakistan the legal basis for being a party to the Kashmir dispute. They repeatedly assert that the Islamist jehadis were created and funded by the US and the CIA when the Soviets entered Afghanistan. The Kashmiri crisis, they say, preceded the jehadi creation. The Soviets were pushed out and the US left Pakistan and Afghanistan in the lurch.
These arguments, unfortunately for the Indian position, appear, on the face of it, to carry legal and emotional weight. The sanctity of the UN. A faithful ally left high and dry. A poor used and abused ally. The primary task of Indian diplomats, I have always argued, is to counter this historical disinformation, constantly, consistently and credibly. Otherwise it reaches the White House and international policy influencers undiluted to become a handy tool with which to justify beating India over the head and interfering in J&K.
A textbook example of how to counter these arguments came from political science professor Dr Christine Fair of the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University. Responding to a similar question from a Fulbright Scholar, she responded:
“Have you read the UN Security Council Resolution of 1948 (on plebiscite in Jammu and Kashmir)?” The Fulbright Scholar admitted he had not. She admonished him: “First thing I would ask you is to read it. Go to the UN Security Council website and read that fabulous resolution. Every Pakistani points to it but nobody has actually read it. Take the actual version and compare that to the claims made by Pakistan’s permanent representative to the UN and you are going to understand your confusion.
“The resolution is actually very clear. There were three steps. They were sequential, and they were conditional. The very first step was that Pakistan was to demilitarise to the satisfaction of the UN body to be established. Then, conditioned upon the UN being satisfied that this demilitarisation (was complete), India was also supposed to de-militarise with a presence being permitted to defend itself against Pakistani aggression.
“The third, both those steps having been taken in sequence to the preference of the UN, then the plebiscite would be held. So all those Pakistanis who are so upset about the plebiscite that never happened, they have their own government to blame because Pakistan never fulfilled the first necessary condition. So I’m going to encourage you to read that before ever making a fool of yourself again by presenting it in public. So just do yourself a favor by reading that document.
“Second, I want you to learn a little about your own country’s Afghanistan policy. Sir, do you know that it was Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto who began the ISI cell in Afghanistan? It was also Bhutto who began setting up what became the ‘Seven Donkeys’ before even the Soviet Union crossed over. Did you know this, sir? (Answer: No.)
“So this idea that somehow the United States used Pakistan in some sort of effort to expel the Soviets is a completely incorrect reading of your own history. Bhutto, after King Zahir Shah was ousted, and Dawood came to power began pro-Soviet policies, driving the Islamists into Iran and Pakistan respectively. Zulfiqar set up an ISI cell so he could use those disenchanted and disenfranchised Islamists as vectors of Pakistan’s policies in Afghanistan. Did you know that we first sanctioned Pakistan in April of 1979 because of advances made in its nuclear weapons programme? If we were so interested in sucking it into our evil jehad designs we sure didn’t make that difficult for ourselves because when the Soviets did cross over we had to do a bunch manoeuvring to get a waiver. And do you know that the first of that money did not get into Pakistan until 1982 because of that requirement to get a waiver?
“So before you go blaming the United States for using and abusing poor Pakistan, you should familiarise yourself with your own history because Pakistan has been instrumentalising Islamists long before the Americans even knew what an Islamist was. Now going to your next point about leaving Pakistan high and dry. Let’s talk about the Pressler Amendment. The Pressler Amendment was actually designed so Pakistan can continue proliferating, while we continue arming you, because we had first sanctioned you in April 1979. Everyone understood the name of this game. When we withdrew in 1990, we withdrew. Pakistan, however, continued mucking around with the Islamists. So this idea that the jehad today or the Taliban today or the Al Qaeda, this is really a grotesque empirical error…that I really don’t quite expect from Fulbright students because everything you said is a highly stylized re-telling that you get from Pakistani media in your curriculum.”
Incidentally, the plebiscite was also to be conducted regionally—separately for Jammu, Kashmir, Ladakh, Gilgit and Baltistan. But as an analyst correctly points out in an internet post, the plebiscite/referendum is no longer valid for other reasons as well: Because of Punjabi-speaking settlers, the demographics have changed significantly in PoK; Pakistan has ceded a part of Kashmir to China (Shaksgam Valley); China has invested billions of dollars in Gilgit-Baltistan and even has some troop presence there. Would Pakistan be willing to hand over Gilgit-Baltistan to India—even temporarily? Handing over Gilgil-Baltistan means China and Pakistan would no longer share any borders.
No one can force Trump to do his homework, to read a book, or to study a position paper. But surely, Indian diplomats and the country’s security establishment can do better at countering pronouncements such as the one made by Trump based on historical disinformation by driving in the home truths that are available on the record.