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+ Yes, the U.S. is trying to be an honest broker

I really would like to believe that the Americans are a positive force in the moves towards a settlement in Kashmir this time. However, I have absolutely no illusions that the parlays will lead to anything concrete. This is because there are enough vested interests in Pakistan for whom continued conflict is not only desirable, but necessary.

Nevertheless, there is a tiny chance that something is different this time: and that is because of 9/11, Afghanistan, Iraq. Despite the constant refrain that “Pakistan is a valued ally in the war against terrorism,” American policymakers do know it is a terrorist, rogue, failing state.

It is possible that Pakistanis now realize that jihad isn’t quite the panacea their imperialist Sunni Punjabi army has been claiming it is. Their country has become an international pariah. In the period 1989 to 2003, while the Pakistani-generated insurrection in Kashmir has hurt India, it has affected Pakistan considerably more. Guns vs. butter, of course.

Furthermore, Pakistan’s friends—Americans, the Chinese, and the Saudis—may be getting less generous. The Saudis are getting impoverished—per capita incomes have fallen from $28,000 in the 1970s to $8,000 in the 2000s. Saudi Arabia can no longer afford to be Pakistan’s sugar daddy. China may be loath to do a lot more proliferation. And the U.S. views Islamists with grave concern.
That brings me to another reason the U.S. wants to be seen as a peacemaker: that is China. It makes sense for Americans to build a cordon sanitaire around China. India will be a key player in any such coalition, along with Japan, Russia, Vietnam, and Taiwan, all of whom are threatened by Chinese aggression.
Thus, there are at least two areas where India and the U.S. have a commonality of concerns: one, the Islamic nuke, and two, containing China. And both these are helped by a genuinely neutral America.

An intriguing possibility has been brought up by Narayanan Komerath, a professor at Georgia Institute of Technology. He suggests that Pakistani “strategic assets”—meaning nuclear weapons—have been neutralized by the Americans. He bases this on circumstantial evidence: for example, the reduced nuclear saber-rattling from Gen. Musharraf and buddies, who have not indulged in nuclear blackmail since June 2002. That would also explain, suggests Komerath, why the U.S. didn’t make a huge fuss about the North Korea-Pakistan proliferation nexus.

If Pakistan has been thus defanged, the U.S. is certainly acting as a trustworthy third party, reversing the Nixonian tilt towards Pakistan. This may also explain Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s startling offer of peace talks: there may be no more Pakistani nuke to worry about.
Rajeev Srinivasan wrote this opinion from Chennai, India.

+ No, the U.S. has its own vested interests

Discussing how Christian missionaries came to Africa, the states-man Jomo Kenyatta once said something along these lines: when missionaries first arrived, African warriors owned the land. By the time the whites “established peace,” they also ended up owning the land!
This is a cautionary tale. Before we analyze the American offer to arbitrate the Kashmir dispute, a note of caution: Altruism is seldom associated with “peacekeepers.” After all, the British East India Company used the same strategy to gobble up much of India.

Consider American frustrations in Pakistan and Afghanistan: Despite being involved in governing (read “rebuilding”) Afghanistan, the American writ doesn’t run beyond Kabul. After the initial euphoria of ousting the Taliban, the American government has made little headway in achieving its real objective—establishing a stable, friendly non-theological state.
The hostile reception in Pakistan has manifested itself in multiple ways—demonstrations, attempted bombings, anti-American militants swee-ping the NWFP election. Despite Musharraf’s cooperation, the U.S. government has not reshaped the Islamic psyche nor neutralized the Taliban.
A frustrated U.S. needs a local, stable base to successfully pursue the aforementioned objectives. What better base than India? India is a stable—if seemingly dysfunctional—democracy.
In contrast to Pakistan, India’s army is militarily competent and ideologically neutral. The Indian army’s successfully fighting terrorism for more than a decade in Kashmir is significant: Al Qaeda and Kashmiri terrorism are cousins.

The Indian army is a definite asset in conventional and guerrilla warfare. With a stable industrial infrastructure, India represents the optimal solution to the American quest for a long-term viable base in the region.
India’s proximity to Indonesia, the “alternate” terrorist hotspot, is noteworthy. With Australia firmly on America’s side, the U.S. would have a strategic deadlock on Indonesia with a base in India.
So, how does the U.S. establish a base in India?
Lo and behold! It offers to play peacemaker. The U.S. established a long-term presence in Kuwait to “safeguard peace,” a decade-long presence in Saudi Arabia to “monitor peace,” and recently occupied Iraq to “establish peace.” “Peace,” as would be obvious, translates into “long-term presence.” Blessed are the peacemakers!
Should their proposal be accepted, the U.S. will broker an agreement to nobody’s satisfaction. The ensuing chaos will lead to a second round of negotiations and a third round of negotiations, and so on. The longer the negotiations, the more reasons for establishing long-term American presence.
America brokering peace for altruistic purposes is as realistic as a cool breeze on a hot summer afternoon in the desert.

S. Gopikrishna writes on India and Indians from Toronto. He can be reached at