By Ali Siddiqi
Fueled by historical animosity, a deep-seated dispute over Kashmir, and allegations of cross-border terrorism, the nations of India and Pakistan have spiraled into 74 years of near-constant conflict. Both states' possession of nuclear weapons elevates this heated dance into a potentially catastrophic global security threat. Despite the serious global risks associated with the conflict, neither the U.S. nor the international community has taken an adequate role in resolving the conflict, with the Biden administration stating that the Kashmiri conflict should be resolved through bilateral negotiations between India and Pakistan. However, growing tensions between the two nuclear-armed nations create serious global risks and it is imperative that the U.S. take an active role in resolving the Indo-Pakistani conflict. Such an active role is embodied by the U.S. acting as an intermediary between the two nations.
Geographically removed from the metaphorical blast zone, the U.S. has refrained from taking an active role in resolving the conflict and pursues a policy of noninterventionism as it needs both countries' cooperation to combat terrorism in the region. U.S. policymakers believe American mediation efforts would complicate the delicate relationships the US maintains with the two countries. Thus, there is a lack of political interest by both U.S. political parties and the State Department to take a mediating role in the conflict. Despite the U.S. reluctance to get involved the Pakistani government has repeatedly called for American mediation. The Indian government rejects such calls for American mediation as it views the conflict as an internal matter. Moreover, Pakistan’s repeated requests for American mediation have been recently disregarded by the U.S. as the United States wishes to pursue closer ties with India and distrusts Pakistan's commitment to the peace process, noting its military establishment’s continued support for Islamist terrorist groups in Kashmir.
However, despite its historical passive role, now is the time for the U.S. to facilitate negotiations between the two rival states. Despite India publicly stating that the conflict could only be resolved through bilateral negotiations, such statements have not been followed by concrete, long-term efforts to secure a peaceful resolution to the conflict since it began in 1947. As bilateral negotiations have failed to produce tangible progress towards resolving the conflict, the only alternative is for international actors to intervene. The U.S. is the ideal mediator for the conflict as it has longstanding diplomatic relations with India and Pakistan and is home to large Indian and Pakistani diaspora communities that are able to influence US policy through PACs, lobbying, and electoral politics.
The United States can leverage its close ties with the Indian government to persuade it to engage in peace talks with the Pakistani government. Such persuasion could take the form of incentives such as an economic aid package, immigration visas, and the sharing of military technology conditioned on the success of the negotiations. Regarding Pakistan, the country has long demanded U.S. mediation and accordingly would be more willing than their Indian counterpart to have the U.S. mediate peace talks. Therefore, the onus is on the Modi government to accept the U.S. as an intermediary to the conflict for the alternative is much worse. The conflict between the two nations is not limited to conventional warfare but also features elements of state-sponsored terrorism and human rights abuses that both countries have engaged in. The failure of a peace process and the general cessation of hostilities would continue to create more bloodshed within the region negatively impacting the civilian population. To date, over 100,000 people have lost their lives in the conflict, over 40,000 of which are civilians.
Geopolitically, an Indo-Pakistani peace process could potentially improve bilateral ties between the U.S. and China. China's involvement in the conflict stems from its claim to a part of Kashmir also claimed by India, leading to a long-running territorial dispute between the two rising powers that has also occasionally resulted in armed conflict (albeit on a smaller scale than the wars fought between India and Pakistan). Consequently, Pakistan and China have maintained a strong alliance due to their joint animosity towards India. The two countries have strengthened their economic ties in recent years through the creation of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, an aspect of China’s Belt and Road Initiative. It is in the interest of both the United States and China to pursue a resolution of the Indo-Pakistani conflict as it will ensure the security, stability, and prosperity of the South Asian region.
In addition, if peace isn’t achieved in the region, Pakistan will continue to back Islamist militant groups that wreak havoc within the region through terrorist acts to engage in human rights abuses within Jammu and Kashmir, engaging in acts such as internment, the deployment of military troops, and blacking out the region’s internet. Therefore, the peace process has the ability to better serve not only the citizens of Pakistan and India but also the citizens of Kashmir, who have been caught in the middle of the conflict and face the large brunt of the conflict.
Therefore, the U.S. must take serious steps to facilitate negotiations between India and Pakistan, persuading each country that peace is in their best interest. Potential steps that the U.S. could take to resolve the conflict is appointing a U.S. special envoy to the region as has been done so in the case of Northern Ireland, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The US should also place financial incentives, such as conditional aid, that would help persuade the governments that it is in their best interests to negotiate. Therefore, potential techniques that the Biden administration should employ to ensure the success of the peace talks are “helping to set up the negotiations, providing advice and offering proposals, serving as a sounding board for all sides, and protecting the negotiators from outside influence.” These techniques coupled with financial incentives would not only bring both nations to the negotiating table but also ensure that both India and Pakistan would stay at the negotiating table, as it would be in their political and economic interest to do so. The importance of the peace talks and their subsequent success is crucial to ensuring global stability. If the Kashmir border dispute is not resolved, the prospect of a miscalculation leading to a devastating nuclear conflict will continue to hang over the world.